Tim Cook Talks Privacy, Steve Jobs, and the 'Difference Between Preparation and Readiness' in Stanford Commencement Address

Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered the commencement address at Stanford University today, sharing his thoughts on privacy, the need to always "be a builder," and how the loss of Steve Jobs made him learn the "real, visceral difference between preparation and readiness."

On the subject of privacy, Cook acknowledged that so many of our modern technological inventions have come out of Silicon Valley, but that recent years have seen "a less noble innovation: the belief that you can claim credit without accepting responsibility."

Cook stressed the importance of not accepting that we must give up privacy in order to enjoy advances in technology, arguing that there's much more at stake than just our data.If we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated, sold, or even leaked in the event of a hack, then we lose so much more than data.

We lose the freedom to be human.

Think about what’s at stake. Everything you write, everything you say, every topic of curiosity, every stray thought, every impulsive purchase, every moment of frustration or weakness, every gripe or complaint, every secret shared in confidence.

In a world without digital privacy, even if you have done nothing wrong other than think differently, you begin to censor yourself. Not entirely at first. Just a little, bit by bit. To risk less, to hope less, to imagine less, to dare less, to create less, to try less, to talk less, to think less. The chilling effect of digital surveillance is profound, and it touches everything.

What a small, unimaginative world we would end up with. Not entirely at first. Just a little, bit by bit. Ironically, it’s the kind of environment that would have stopped Silicon Valley before it had even gotten started.

We deserve better. You deserve better.
Image credit: L.A. Cicero/Stanford University
Shifting focus to the aspirations of today's graduates, Cook encouraged each of them to "be a builder," regardless of their chosen occupation.You don’t have to start from scratch to build something monumental. And, conversely, the best founders – the ones whose creations last and whose reputations grow rather than shrink with passing time – they spend most of their time building, piece by piece.

Builders are comfortable in the belief that their life’s work will one day be bigger than them – bigger than any one person. They’re mindful that its effects will span generations. That’s not an accident. In a way, it’s the whole point. [...]

Graduates, being a builder is about believing that you cannot possibly be the greatest cause on this Earth, because you aren’t built to last. It’s about making peace with the fact that you won’t be there for the end of the story.Finally, Cook turned his speech to the topic of Steve Jobs, who famously stood on the same stage 14 years ago to give the commencement address.

Cook related the story of his conviction that Jobs would recover from his cancer, even as he handed the reins of Apple over to Cook. Drawing from what he learned in those dark days, Cook emphasized that "your mentors may leave you prepared, but they can't leave you ready."

Calling it the "loneliest I've ever felt in my life," Cook reflected on feeling the heavy expectations of those around him, noting that he eventually he realized he needed "be the best version" of himself and not let those around him and their expectations dictate his life.Graduates, the fact is, when your time comes, and it will, you’ll never be ready.

But you’re not supposed to be. Find the hope in the unexpected. Find the courage in the challenge. Find your vision on the solitary road.

Don’t get distracted.

There are too many people who want credit without responsibility.

Too many who show up for the ribbon cutting without building anything worth a damn.

Be different. Leave something worthy.

And always remember that you can’t take it with you. You’re going to have to pass it on.Today's speech at Stanford was just one of several commenencement addresses Cook has given in recent years, including Tulane University just last month, as well as his graduate alma mater Duke University last year, MIT in 2017, George Washington University in 2015, and his undergraduate alma mater Auburn University in 2010.

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Disney+ has arrived, here's everything you need to know
It's November 12th, and Disney has thrown the doors open on its streaming service Disney+. If you live in the US, Canada or the Netherlands, then you can get unprecedented access to the Disney vault as well as some interesting new original content. T...
Engadget | Technology News, Advice and Features
Disney won’t share ratings for original Disney+ titles despite industry push to do so
Photo: Disney Disney won’t publicly share viewership numbers for its original series and movies, despite fellow streaming giants like Netflix being more transparent in the wake of industry-wide criticism. The content and development teams overseeing Disney+ have spoken about how they’re approaching sharing metrics in internal conversations, according to multiple Disney executives. The company currently doesn’t see a reason to share metrics with the public, although creative talent who partner with Disney on Disney+ titles will receive some form of ratings. Since Disney+ doesn’t run with ads, there’s no pressure to partner with a company like Nielsen, the foremost ratings agency, to show advertisers how well a show or movie is performing. Releasing numbers to the public would just put more focus on each individual performance, which the company doesn’t want to do at this time. Since Disney+ doesn’t run with ads, there’s no pressure to partner with a company like Nielsen Streaming companies like Netflix have faced backlash from reporters and the public for years for not being more transparent about viewership. This includes data like how many accounts finished a TV show or a movie, versus how many simply started a title. Netflix has become slightly more forthcoming in recent months, sharing more information on social media and in earnings reports about its metrics. Transparency is central to conversations about whether Netflix executives decide to renew a season. Netflix teams use an “efficiency metric” to internally determine whether a show is worth renewing. The ratio breaks down whether a show is likely to retain customers at risk of canceling their subscriptions, or bring in new subscribers. Stranger Things, Netflix’s most popular show to date, is likely to do both, while a cult-beloved show like The OA isn’t. Nielsen ratings are considered public interest because they help reiterate that a show is successful (The Walking Dead, The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy), or that it isn’t (Firefly, Undeclared). Numbers don’t translate to quality, but the data helps people visualize what a “successful” show looks like. Ratings might seem like something the general public doesn’t care about, but conversations do arise when beloved shows get canceled. Tuca and Bertie is a perfect example. The animated series from BoJack Horsemanartist Lisa Hanawalt only ran one season before it was canceled — a move that Hanawalt blamed on Netflix’s algorithm. The algorithm, which could affect how many people stream a show, plays into the efficiency metric and whether a show gets canceled or renewed. It all bleeds down into what’s available for subscribers to watch. Transparency is central to conversations about whether Netflix executives decide to renew a season It also makes dealing with cancellations easier. If Disney starts to can shows, releasing those metrics could become a more prominent conversation. Disney has already renewed a few of its shows, like live-action Star Wars program The Mandalorian. It’s set for a second season that’s currently in development. Investors probably want to know how many people are watching Disney’s $15-million-an-episode show, and executives might share those numbers. For now, the public and reporters will be kept in the dark.
The Verge
Disney doesn’t have plans to bring live-action Spider-Man movies to Disney+
Image: Sony Pictures Disney is working to bring the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe collection — 23 titles to date — to its Disney+ streaming service, but Spider-Man: Homecomingand Spider-Man: Far From Homeare unlikely to be included. Ricky Strauss, Disney’s head of content and marketing for Disney+, told The Verge at a recent media day in New York there aren’t any plans to bring the two movies over to Disney+. Although both Tom Holland-led Spider-Man movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, were co-produced by Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures, the rights belong to Sony. That makes it infinitely more difficult for Disney to bring the movies over to its own streaming service. “We love our friends at Sony, but we don’t have any plans to have the live-action Spider-Man movies on Disney+ ” Strauss said. “We will have all the Spider-Man animated shows that we did so they’ll be on there under the Marvel banner. But who knows what can happen in the future?” Disney has worked out multiple deals to get much of the MCU back. That includes making last-minute deals just days before Disney+’s launch, according to a Disney executive. It explains why there are now several more Marvel titles available on Disney+ than what Disney announced less than one month ago. It also explains this lengthy thread from the official Disney+ account published earlier today. “We love our friends at Sony, but we don’t have any plans to have the live-action Spider-Man movies on Disney+” Then, last week, Disney announced Avengers: Endgame would be available on Disney+ one month earlier than expected, moving up from December 11th to November 12th. Kevin Mayer, Disney’s head of direct-to-consumer services, told press that it was a one-time occurrence where a movie still within its home release window (the three-month period after a movie leaves theaters) would be cut short. Exceptions were made for Endgame because of Disney+’s launch and there only being a few weeks left in the home release window. Netflix will remain a major roadblock for Disney+ at launch. The only films that aren’t on the service are those that will remain on Netflix until the end of 2019 (Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Avengers: Infinity Warand Thor: Ragnarok). These four movies will become available on Disney+ beginning in 2020, once the contract with Netflix expires. It’s also why seven installments in the Skywalker saga will be available to stream on Disney+, but not Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Eventually all Disney IP will end up on Disney+, according to executives. It’s just going to take some time — and patience — for rights to revert back to themselves.
The Verge
‘We’re not embarrassed by the fact that we have big blockbusters,’ Disney exec says
Marvel Studios Marvel Studios is at the heart of a debate. One side is represented by directors like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, who argue that superhero movies dominating the box office make it difficult for any other type of movie to survive, let alone thrive, in theaters. On the other is Disney, a company whose executives argue that it’s one of the largest supporters of cinema and theatrical releases. Disney is a company poised to make $10 billion this year at the box office — the highest for one studio in history — on the backs of remakes, sequels, and franchise installments. Scorsese, Coppola, and a community of cinephiles have long bemoaned what mega entertainment companies like Disney are doing to film, but company executives feel differently. “We are not embarrassed by the fact that we have big blockbuster movies that people enjoy,” Kevin Mayer, Disney’s head of direct-to-consumer products, told The Verge at a recent media day in New York City. “If you look at the box office success, that’s an indicator of how popular and how embraced these films are by real audiences.” “We are not embarrassed by the fact that we have big blockbuster movies that people enjoy” Back-and-forth remarks from filmmakers and studio executives about Scorsese’s take on superhero films dominating the box office have escalated. Everything came to a head when Scorsese published an essay in The New York Times’ Opinion section clarifying his remarks, examining the relationship between what movies get theatrical releases and proper marketing. The bottom line, Scorsese wrote, is “that the financial dominance of one is being used to marginalize and even belittle the existence of the other.” “For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art,” Scorsese wrote. Mayer and other Disney executives, including CEO Bob Iger, don’t see it that way. Disney is “one of the biggest supporters of the theatrical business in the world,” Mayer said, adding that Disney’s films are “really helping cinema quite a bit.” Now that Disney owns 21st Century Fox, including beloved studio Fox Searchlight (The Shape of Water, Juno, Boys Don’t Cry, The Wrestler), Mayer said Disney wants to continue supporting the “smaller, edgier, more artsy films” by giving them full theatrical releases. That doesn’t mean every movie will get a theatrical release; because Disney is in the streaming business, some titles will be made exclusively for Disney+ and Hulu. Take The Lady and the Tramp, alive-action remake starring Justin Theroux and Janelle Monaé. It was supposed to be a theatrical release, but was switched to a Disney+ exclusive launch title instead. Disney is “one of the biggest supporters of the theatrical business in the world,” Mayer said Live-action remakes are an important part of Disney’s theatrical calendar, but enthusiasm may be waning. Although The Lion Kingand Aladdinboth crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide, Dumbo only pulled in $353 million. All three movies received mixed reviews. From a business perspective, it makes sense for some movies to receive streaming exclusivity windows, where they may bring in more subscribers, than to get standard theatrical releases. Iger suggested on Disney’s most recent earnings call that studios such as Fox Searchlight could start making exclusive movies for Hulu. Those decisions are made through conversations between the studios, Disney’s content team, and input from Iger himself, Mayer said. “So we continue to make more incremental films,” Mayer said. “We think that we’re deploying in the right way. And I think we think we’re supporting the cinema business point.” Unlike Netflix, Disney isn’t abandoning a traditional theatrical release schedule in order to appeal to digital subscribers. The company wants to continue working with talent to bring their films into theaters — especially blockbusters, like Avengers: Endgame. “We are happy to have those films, and those films — our big event films — will continue to be theatrically released,” Mayer said. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.
The Verge
How important will Marvel’s Disney+ shows be in understanding the Cinematic Universe?
Marvel Studios Marvel Studios Kevin Feige kicked off a chorus of complaints last week after declaring that in order to understand everything happening in future Marvel movies, people would have to subscribe to Disney+. Disney executives Ricky Strauss and Agnes Chu, both directly involved in overseeing Disney+ content, further explained Feige and Marvel’s approach to connecting with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. WandaVision, a series that stars Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany as Vision, is the go-to example. Both that series and Loki, the Disney+ Marvel series that focuses on Tom Hiddleston’s popular character, will play into the second Doctor Strange movie, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. “Specifically with a series like WandaVision, you will get to understand more about the Scarlet Witch in a way that informs her character, which we will see from her in future Marvel movies,” Chu told The Verge. Neither executives specifically addressed just how much Scarlet Witch’s arc in WandaVision would relate to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness plot-wise. Instead, both reiterated that having Feige heading development on both the film and TV side would help keep it consistent. “When those stories are over in those seasons, they can migrate back to the big screen, and then back to Disney+” “Kevin’s a genius, and he has so many different stories that he wants to tell with such a large variety of Marvel characters,” Chu added. “Some of them are better told in an episodic format. There’s just more hours where you can really get in-depth with those characters.” Spacing out theatrical releases and new Marvel shows on Disney+ should help fans from burning out on the MCU, according to Disney executives. It’s not just Marvel movies that will receive this treatment; there are several Star Wars projects in development and some could intersect with new movies in the future. Disney+ gives the company a chance to explore how movies and shows can work together. “One of the advantages that we’ve had with Marvel is the ability to take these stories and migrate them from the big screen on to Disney+ in a way that we’ve never been able to do before with episodic content,” Strauss told The Verge. “When those stories are over in those seasons, they can migrate back to the big screen, and then back to Disney+, so the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not just a theatrical play. It’s also for the streaming service.” If anyone can figure out how to execute it properly, it’s Feige, but that hasn’t convinced everyone it’s a feat Disney can pull off. Marvel has tried more gimmicky tie-ins, both on- and off-screen. In fact, a portion of Marvel Comics’ run in the ’90s was defined by complex and exhaustive crossover events that led to ridicule and headaches years later from the comics community. That was pre-MCU, but the idea somewhat continued. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD aired an episode directly leading up to Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015. The move was as much a marketing strategy as it was a content play; intertwining the two helped boost Agents of SHIELD’s ratings and increased attention on Age of Ultron. Using WandaVision, Loki, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness puts Disney in the same boat. Disney wants to grow its streaming service as fast as it possibly can, a difficult feat for any company. Leveraging the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to boost subscriptions is an exclusive advantage for Disney — one that Chu says is “only something this company can do.” Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.
The Verge
Disney+ gets every 'Star Wars' movie in 4K, Dolby Vision and Atmos
We knew Disney+ would be the new home of Star Wars ever since the service was announced, but Disney kept an interesting nugget secret until now. The entire Star Wars series, including the original trilogy and much-maligned prequels, has also been rem...
Engadget | Technology News, Advice and Features
Everything to Know About Disney+
Over a year after it was first announced, Disney+ is finally here and full of cartoons, superheroes, and space wizards for you to gawk at. Last week, Gizmodo got a chance to check out the new streaming service app in its final form and speak with the team behind Disney+’s launch.Read more...
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Against Reconciliation
Image above: William Howard Taft and a succession of other Republican presidents privileged restoring relations with the South over protecting black Americans’ rights.Joe Biden has fond memories of negotiating with James Eastland, the senator from Mississippi who once declared, “I am of the opinion that we should have segregation in all the States of the United States by law. What the people of this country must realize is that the white race is a superior race, and the Negro race is an inferior race.”To hear more feature stories, see our full list or get the Audm iPhone app. Recalling in June his debates with segregationists like Eastland, Biden lamented, “At least there was some civility,” compared with today. “We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition; the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”Biden later apologized for his wistfulness. But yearning for an ostensibly more genteel era of American politics wasn’t a gaffe. Such nostalgia is central to Biden’s appeal as an antidote to the vitriol that has marked the presidency of Donald Trump.Nor is Biden alone in selling the idea that rancor threatens the American republic. This September, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who owes his seat to Senate Republicans depriving a Democratic president of his authority to fill a vacancy on the high court, published a book that argued, “In a very real way, self-governance turns on our treating each other as equals—as persons, with the courtesy and respect each person deserves—even when we vigorously disagree.”Trump himself, a man whose rallies regularly descend into ritual denunciations of his enemies, declared in October 2018, as Americans were preparing to vote in the midterm elections, that “everyone will benefit if we can end the politics of personal destruction.” The president helpfully explained exactly what he meant: “Constant unfair coverage, deep hostility, and negative attacks … only serve to drive people apart and to undermine healthy debate.” Civility, in other words, is treating Trump how Trump wants to be treated, while he treats you however he pleases. It was a more honest description of how the concept of civility is applied today than either Biden or Gorsuch offered.There are two definitions of civility. The first is not being an asshole. The second is “I can do what I want and you can shut up.” The latter definition currently dominates American political discourse.The country is indeed divided today, and there is nothing wrong with wishing that Americans could all get along. But while nonviolence is essential to democracy, civility is optional, and today’s preoccupation with politesse both exaggerates the country’s divisions and papers over the fundamental issues that are causing the divisions in the first place. The idea that we’re currently experiencing something like the nadir of American civility ignores the turmoil that has traditionally characterized the nation’s politics, and the comparatively low level of political violence today despite the animosity of the moment.Paeans to a more civil past also ignore the price of that civility. It’s not an unfortunate coincidence that the men Joe Biden worked with so amicably were segregationists. The civility he longs for was the result of excluding historically marginalized groups from the polity, which allowed men like James Eastland to wield tremendous power in Congress without regard for the rights or dignity of their disenfranchised constituents.The true cause of American political discord is the lingering resistance of those who have traditionally held power to sharing it with those who until recently have only experienced its serrated edge. And the resistance does linger. Just this fall, a current Democratic senator from Delaware, Chris Coons, told a panel at the University of Notre Dame Law School that he hoped “a more diverse Senate that includes women’s voices, and voices of people of color, and voices of people who were not professionals but, you know, who grew up working-class” would not produce “irreconcilable discord.”In his “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. famously lamented the “white moderate” who “prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” He also acknowledged the importance of tension to achieving justice. “I have earnestly opposed violent tension,” King wrote, “but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.” Americans should not fear that form of tension. They should fear its absence.At their most frenzied, calls for civility stoke the fear that the United States might be on the precipice of armed conflict. Once confined to right-wing fever swamps, where radicals wrote fan fiction about taking up arms in response to “liberal tyranny,” the notion has gained currency in conservative media in the Trump era. In response to calls for gun-buyback programs, Tucker Carlson said on Fox News, “What you are calling for is civil war.” The president himself has warned that removing him from office, through the constitutionally provided-for mechanism of impeachment, might lead to civil war.Civil war is not an imminent prospect. The impulse to conjure its specter overlooks how bitter and fierce American politics has often been. In the early days of the republic, as Richard Hofstadter and Michael Wallace wrote in their 1970 book, American Violence, the country witnessed Election Day riots, in which “one faction often tried violently to prevent another from voting.” In the 1850s, the nativist Know-Nothings fielded gangs to intimidate immigrant voters. Abolitionists urged defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act, and lived by their words, running slave catchers out of town and breaking captured black people out of custody. Frederick Douglass said that the best way to make the act a “dead letter” was “to make half a dozen or more dead kidnappers.”During the Gilded Age, state militias turned guns on striking workers. From 1882 to 1968, nearly 5,000 people, mostly black Americans, were lynched nationwide. From January 1969 to April 1970, more than 4,000 bombings occurred across the country, according to a Senate investigation. As Hofstadter wrote, “Violence has been used repeatedly in our past, often quite purposefully, and a full reckoning with the fact is a necessary ingredient in any realistic national self-image.”The absence of this realistic national self-image has contributed to the sense of despair that characterizes American politics today. The reality, however, is that political violence is less common in the present than it has been at many points in American history, despite the ancient plague of white supremacy, the lingering scourge of jihadism, and the influence of a president who revels in winking justifications of violence against his political opponents and immigrants. Many Americans can’t stand one another right now. But apart from a few deranged fanatics, they do not want to slaughter one another en masse.The more pertinent historical analogue is not the fractious antebellum period right-wing partisans seem so eager to relive but the tragic failures of Reconstruction, when the comforts of comity were privileged over the difficult work of building a multiracial democracy. The danger of our own political moment is not that Americans will again descend into a bloody conflagration. It is that the fundamental rights of marginalized people will again become bargaining chips political leaders trade for an empty reconciliation.The Reconstruction amendments to the Constitution should have settled once and for all the question of whether America was a white man’s country or a nation for all its citizens. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment established that anyone could be a citizen regardless of race, and the Fifteenth Amendment barred racial discrimination in voting. But by 1876, Republicans had paid a high political price for their advocacy of rights for black people, losing control of the House and nearly losing the presidency to the party associated with a violent rebellion in defense of slavery. Democrats agreed to hand Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops in the South, effectively ending the region’s brief experiment in multiracial governance. Witnessing the first stirrings of reunion, Douglass, the great abolitionist, wondered aloud, “In what position will this stupendous reconciliation leave the colored people?” He was right to worry.One state government after another fell to campaigns of murder and terror carried out by Democratic paramilitaries. With its black constituency in the South disempowered, the Republican Party grew reliant on its corporate patrons, and adjusted its approach to maximize support from white voters. As for those emancipated after a devastating war, the party of abolition abandoned them to the despotism of their former masters. Writing in 1902, the political scientist and white supremacist John W. Burgess observed, “The white men of the South need now have no further fear that the Republican party, or Republican Administrations, will ever again give themselves over to the vain imagination of the political equality of man.”The capitulation of Republicans restored civility between the major parties, but the political truce masked a horrendous spike in violence against freedmen. “While the parties clearly move back from confrontation with each other, you have the unleashing of massive white-supremacist violence in the South against African Americans and a systematic campaign to disenfranchise, a systematic campaign of racial terror in the South,” Manisha Sinha, a history professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition, told me. “This is an era when white supremacy becomes virtually a national ideology.”This was the fruit of prizing reconciliation over justice, order over equality, civility over truth. Republicans’ acquiescence laid the foundation for the reimposition of forced labor on the emancipated, the establishment of the Jim Crow system, and the state and extrajudicial terror that preserved white supremacy in the South for another century.The day William Howard Taft was inaugurated, in March 1909, was frigid—a storm dropped more than half a foot of snow on Washington, D.C. But Taft’s inaugural address was filled with warm feeling, particularly about the reconciliation of North and South, and the full and just resolution of what was then known as the “Negro problem.”“I look forward,” the party of Lincoln’s latest president said, “to an increased feeling on the part of all the people in the South that this Government is their Government, and that its officers in their states are their officers.” He assured Americans, “I have not the slightest race prejudice or feeling, and recognition of its existence only awakens in my heart a deeper sympathy for those who have to bear it or suffer from it, and I question the wisdom of a policy which is likely to increase it.”To that end, he explained, black people should abandon their ambitions toward enfranchisement. In fact, Taft praised the various measures white Southerners had devised to exclude poor white and black Americans—“an ignorant, irresponsible element”—from the polity.Writing in The Crisis two years later, W. E. B. Du Bois bitterly described Taft’s betrayal of black Americans. “In the face of a record of murder, lynching and burning in this country which has appalled the civilized world and loosened the tongue of many a man long since dumb on the race problem, in spite of this, Mr. Taft has blandly informed a deputation of colored men that any action on his part is quite outside his power, if not his interest.”The first volume of David Levering Lewis’s biography of Du Bois shows him in particular anguish over what he called the “Taft Doctrine” of acquiescence to Jim Crow, which, in Lewis’s words, “had virtually nullified what remained of Republican Party interest in civil rights.” Taft’s Republican successors generally followed suit, culminating in Herbert Hoover, who in 1928 “accelerated the policy of whitening the GOP below the Mason-Dixon Line in order to bring about a major political realignment,” as Lewis put it in the second volume of his Du Bois biography. Taft, who was now the chief justice of the Supreme Court, described the strategy as an attempt “to break up the solid South and to drive the Negroes out of Republican politics.”In 1877, Democrats agreed to hand the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops in the South, effectively ending the region’s brief experiment in multiracial governance. (Illustration: Mendelsund / Munday; Universal History Archive / Getty)Taft couldn’t have predicted exactly how this realignment would take place, but he was right about the result. Despite the best efforts of Southern Democrats to segregate the benefits of the New Deal, the policies devised by Franklin D. Roosevelt to lift America out of the Great Depression alleviated black poverty, reinvigorating black participation in politics and helping transform the Democratic Party. “Government became immediate, its impact tangible, its activities relevant,” wrote the historian Nancy Weiss Malkiel in her 1983 book, Farewell to the Party of Lincoln. “As a result, blacks, like other Americans, found themselves drawn into the political process.”The New Deal’s modest, albeit inadvertent, erosion of racial apartheid turned Southern Democrats against it. Thus began a period of ideological heterodoxy within the parties born of the unresolved race question. Whatever their other differences, significant factions in both parties could agree on the imperative to further marginalize black Americans.Some of the worst violence in American history occurred during the period of low partisan polarization stretching from the late Progressive era to the late 1970s—the moment for which Joe Biden waxed nostalgic. In Ivy League debate rooms and the Senate cloakroom, white men could discuss the most divisive issues of the day with all the politeness befitting what was for them a low-stakes conflict. Outside, the people whose rights were actually at stake were fighting and dying to have those rights recognized.In 1955, the lynching of Emmett Till—and the sight of his mutilated body in his casket—helped spark the modern civil-rights movement. Lionized today for their disciplined, nonviolent protest, civil-rights demonstrators were seen by American political elites as unruly and impolite. In April 1965, about a month after police attacked civil-rights marchers in Selma, Alabama, with billy clubs and tear gas, National Review published a cover story opposing the Voting Rights Act. Titled “Must We Repeal the Constitution to Give the Negro the Vote?,” the article, written by James Jackson Kilpatrick, began by lamenting the uncompromising meanness of the law’s supporters. Opposing the enfranchisement of black people, Kilpatrick complained, meant being dismissed as “a bigot, a racist, a violator of the rights of man, a mute accomplice to the murder of a mother-of-five.”The fact that National Review’s founder, William F. Buckley Jr., had editorialized that “the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically” went unmentioned by Kilpatrick. Both civility and democracy were marred by the inclusion of black people in politics because in the view of Kilpatrick, Buckley, and many of their contemporaries, black people had no business participating in the first place.Since the 1970s, American politics has grown more polarized, as the realignment Taft foresaw moved toward its conclusion and the parties became more ideologically distinct. In recent years, the differences between Republicans and Democrats have come to be defined as much by identity as by ideology. If you are white and Christian, you are very likely to be a Republican; if you are not, you are more likely to be a Democrat. At the same time, Americans have now sorted themselves geographically and socially such that they rarely encounter people who hold opposing views.It’s a recipe for acrimony. As the parties become more homogeneous and more alien to each other, “we are more capable of dehumanizing the other side or distancing ourselves from them on a moral basis,” Lilliana Mason, a political scientist and the author of Uncivil Agreement, told me. “So it becomes easier for us to say things like ‘People on the other side are not just wrong; they’re evil’ or ‘People on the other side, they should be treated like animals.’ ”Ideological and demographic uniformity has not been realized equally in both parties, however. The Democratic Party remains a heterogeneous entity, full of believers and atheists, nurses and college professors, black people and white people. This has made the party more hospitable to multiracial democracy.The Republican Party, by contrast, has grown more racially and religiously homogeneous, and its politics more dependent on manufacturing threats to the status of white Christians. This is why Trump frequently and falsely implies that Americans were afraid to say “Merry Christmas” before he was elected, and why Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham warn Fox News viewers that nonwhite immigrants are stealing America. For both the Republican Party and conservative media, wielding power and influence depends on making white Americans feel threatened by the growing political influence of those who are different from them.In stoking such fears, anger is a powerful weapon. In his book Anger and Racial Politics, the University of Maryland professor Antoine J. Banks argues that “anger is the dominant emotional underpinning of contemporary racism.” Anger and racism are so linked, in fact, that politicians need not use overtly racist language to provoke racial resentment. Anger alone, Banks writes, can activate prejudiced views, even when a given issue would seem to have little to do with race: “Anger operates as a switch that amplifies (or turns on) racist thinking—exacerbating America’s racial problem. It pushes prejudiced whites to oppose policies and candidates perceived as alleviating racial inequality.” This is true for politicians on both sides of the political divide—but the right has far more to gain from sowing discord than from mending fences.Trumpists lamenting civility’s decline do not fear fractiousness; on the contrary, they happily practice it to their own ends. What they really fear is the cultural, political, and economic shifts that occur when historically marginalized groups begin to exert power in a system that was once defined by their exclusion. Social mores that had been acceptable become offensive; attitudes that had been widely held are condemned.[Whether the American political system today can endure without fracturing further may depend on the choices of the center-right, Yoni Appelbaum writes.]Societies are constantly renegotiating the boundaries of respect and decency. This process can be disorienting; to the once dominant group, it can even feel like oppression. (It is not.) Many of the same people who extol the sanctity of civility when their prerogatives are questioned are prone to convulsions over the possibility of respecting those they consider beneath them, a form of civility they deride as “political correctness.”In a different political system, the tide would pull the Republican Party toward the center. But the GOP’s structural advantage in the Electoral College and the Senate, and its success in gerrymandering congressional and state legislative districts all over the country, allow it to wield power while continuing to appeal solely to a diminishing conservative minority encouraged to regard its fellow Americans as an existential threat.The Trump administration’s attempt to use the census to enhance the power of white voters was foiled by a single vote on the Supreme Court on the basis of a technicality; it will not be the last time this incarnation of the Republican Party seeks to rig democracy to its advantage on racial terms. Even before Trump, the party was focused not only on maximizing the influence of white voters but on disenfranchising minority voters, barely bothering to update its rationale since Taft praised Jim Crow–era voting restrictions for banishing the “ignorant” from the polity.The end of polarization in America matters less than the terms on which it ends. It is possible that, in the aftermath of a Trump defeat in 2020, Republicans will move to the political center. But it is also possible that Trump will win a second term, and the devastation of the defeat will lead the Democrats to court conservative white people, whose geographic distribution grants them a disproportionate influence over American politics. Like the Republicans during Reconstruction, the Democrats may bargain away the rights of their other constituencies in the process.The true threat to America is not an excess of vitriol, but that elites will come together in a consensus that cripples democracy and acquiesces to the dictatorship of a shrinking number of Americans who treat this nation as their exclusive birthright because of their race and religion. This is the false peace of dominance, not the true peace of justice. Until Americans’ current dispute over the nature of our republic is settled in favor of the latter, the dispute must continue.In the aftermath of a terrible war, Americans once purchased an illusion of reconciliation, peace, and civility through a restoration of white rule. They should never again make such a bargain.This article appears in the December 2019 print edition with the headline “Against Reconciliation.”
World Edition - The Atlantic
Why It Feels Like Everything Is Going Haywire
Suppose that the biblical story of Creation were true: God created the universe in six days, including all the laws of physics and all the physical constants that apply throughout the universe. Now imagine that one day, in the early 21st century, God became bored and, just for fun, doubled the gravitational constant. What would it be like to live through such a change? We’d all be pulled toward the floor; many buildings would collapse; birds would fall from the sky; the Earth would move closer to the sun, reestablishing orbit in a far hotter zone.To hear more feature stories, see our full list or get the Audm iPhone app. Let’s rerun this thought experiment in the social and political world, rather than the physical one. The U.S. Constitution was an exercise in intelligent design. The Founding Fathers knew that most previous democracies had been unstable and short-lived. But they were excellent psychologists, and they strove to create institutions and procedures that would work with human nature to resist the forces that had torn apart so many other attempts at self-governance.For example, in “Federalist No. 10,” James Madison wrote about his fear of the power of “faction,” by which he meant strong partisanship or group interest that “inflamed [men] with mutual animosity” and made them forget about the common good. He thought that the vastness of the United States might offer some protection from the ravages of factionalism, because it would be hard for anyone to spread outrage over such a large distance. Madison presumed that factious or divisive leaders “may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.” The Constitution included mechanisms to slow things down, let passions cool, and encourage reflection and deliberation.Madison’s design has proved durable. But what would happen to American democracy if, one day in the early 21st century, a technology appeared that—over the course of a decade—changed several fundamental parameters of social and political life? What if this technology greatly increased the amount of “mutual animosity” and the speed at which outrage spread? Might we witness the political equivalent of buildings collapsing, birds falling from the sky, and the Earth moving closer to the sun?America may be going through such a time right now.What Social Media ChangedFacebook’s early mission was “to make the world more open and connected”—and in the first days of social media, many people assumed that a huge global increase in connectivity would be good for democracy. As social media has aged, however, optimism has faded and the list of known or suspected harms has grown: Online political discussions (often among anonymous strangers) are experienced as angrier and less civil than those in real life; networks of partisans co-create worldviews that can become more and more extreme; disinformation campaigns flourish; violent ideologies lure recruits.The problem may not be connectivity itself but rather the way social media turns so much communication into a public performance. We often think of communication as a two-way street. Intimacy builds as partners take turns, laugh at each other’s jokes, and make reciprocal disclosures. What happens, though, when grandstands are erected along both sides of that street and then filled with friends, acquaintances, rivals, and strangers, all passing judgment and offering commentary?The social psychologist Mark Leary coined the term sociometer to describe the inner mental gauge that tells us, moment by moment, how we’re doing in the eyes of others. We don’t really need self-esteem, Leary argued; rather, the evolutionary imperative is to get others to see us as desirable partners for various kinds of relationships. Social media, with its displays of likes, friends, followers, and retweets, has pulled our sociometers out of our private thoughts and posted them for all to see.If you constantly express anger in your private conversations, your friends will likely find you tiresome, but when there’s an audience, the payoffs are different—outrage can boost your status. A 2017 study by William J. Brady and other researchers at NYU measured the reach of half a million tweets and found that each moral or emotional word used in a tweet increased its virality by 20 percent, on average. Another 2017 study, by the Pew Research Center, showed that posts exhibiting “indignant disagreement” received nearly twice as much engagement—including likes and shares—as other types of content on Facebook.The philosophers Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke have proposed the useful phrase moral grandstanding to describe what happens when people use moral talk to enhance their prestige in a public forum. Like a succession of orators speaking to a skeptical audience, each person strives to outdo previous speakers, leading to some common patterns. Grandstanders tend to “trump up moral charges, pile on in cases of public shaming, announce that anyone who disagrees with them is obviously wrong, or exaggerate emotional displays.” Nuance and truth are casualties in this competition to gain the approval of the audience. Grandstanders scrutinize every word spoken by their opponents—and sometimes even their friends—for the potential to evoke public outrage. Context collapses. The speaker’s intent is ignored.Human beings evolved to gossip, preen, manipulate, and ostracize. We are easily lured into this new gladiatorial circus, even when we know that it can make us cruel and shallow. As the Yale psychologist Molly Crockett has argued, the normal forces that might stop us from joining an outrage mob—such as time to reflect and cool off, or feelings of empathy for a person being humiliated—are attenuated when we can’t see the person’s face, and when we are asked, many times a day, to take a side by publicly “liking” the condemnation.[From October 2018: America is living James Madison’s nightmare]In other words, social media turns many of our most politically engaged citizens into Madison’s nightmare: arsonists who compete to create the most inflammatory posts and images, which they can distribute across the country in an instant while their public sociometer displays how far their creations have traveled.Upgrading the Outrage MachineAt its inception, social media felt very different than it does today. Friendster, Myspace, and Facebook all appeared between 2002 and 2004, offering tools that helped users connect with friends. The sites encouraged people to post highly curated versions of their lives, but they offered no way to spark contagious outrage. This changed with a series of small steps, designed to improve user experience, that collectively altered the way news and anger spread through American society. In order to fix social media—and reduce its harm to democracy—we must try to understand this evolution.When Twitter arrived in 2006, its primary innovation was the timeline: a constant stream of 140-character updates that users could view on their phone. The timeline was a new way of consuming information—an unending stream of content that, to many, felt like drinking from a fire hose.Later that year, Facebook launched its own version, called the News Feed. In 2009, it added the “Like” button, for the first time creating a public metric for the popularity of content. Then it added another transformative innovation: an algorithm that determined which posts a user would see, based on predicted “engagement”—the likelihood of an individual interacting with a given post, figuring in the user’s previous likes. This innovation tamed the fire hose, turning it into a curated stream.Mark PerniceThe News Feed’s algorithmic ordering of content flattened the hierarchy of credibility. Any post by any producer could stick to the top of our feeds as long as it generated engagement. “Fake news” would later flourish in this environment, as a personal blog post was given the same look and feel as a story from The New York Times. 
Twitter also made a key change in 2009, adding the “Retweet” button. Until then, users had to copy and paste older tweets into their status updates, a small obstacle that required a few seconds of thought and attention. The Retweet button essentially enabled the frictionless spread of content. A single click could pass someone else’s tweet on to all of your followers—and let you share in the credit for contagious content. In 2012, Facebook offered its own version of the retweet, the “Share” button, to its fastest-growing audience: smartphone users.Chris Wetherell was one of the engineers who created the Retweet button for Twitter. He admitted to BuzzFeed earlier this year that he now regrets it. As Wetherell watched the first Twitter mobs use his new tool, he thought to himself: “We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon.”The coup de grâce came in 2012 and 2013, when Upworthy and other sites began to capitalize on this new feature set, pioneering the art of testing headlines across dozens of variations to find the version that generated the highest click-through rate. This was the beginning of “You won’t believe …” articles and their ilk, paired with images tested and selected to make us click impulsively. These articles were not usually intended to cause outrage (the founders of Upworthy were more interested in uplift). But the strategy’s success ensured the spread of headline testing, and with it emotional story-packaging, through new and old media alike; outrageous, morally freighted headlines proliferated in the following years. In Esquire, Luke O’Neil reflected on the changes wrought on mainstream media and declared 2013 to be “The Year We Broke the Internet.” The next year, Russia’s Internet Research Agency began mobilizing its network of fake accounts, across every major social-media platform—exploiting the new outrage machine in order to inflame partisan divisions and advance Russian goals.The internet, of course, does not bear sole responsibility for the pitch of political anger today. The media have been fomenting division since Madison’s time, and political scientists have traced a portion of today’s outrage culture to the rise of cable television and talk radio in the 1980s and ’90s. A multiplicity of forces are pushing America toward greater polarization. But social media in the years since 2013 has become a powerful accelerant for anyone who wants to start a fire.The Decline of WisdomEven if social media could be cured of its outrage-enhancing effects, it would still raise problems for the stability of democracy. One such problem is the degree to which the ideas and conflicts of the present moment dominate and displace older ideas and the lessons of the past. As children grow up in America, rivers of information flow continually into their eyes and ears—a mix of ideas, narratives, songs, images, and more. Suppose we could capture and quantify three streams in particular: information that is new (created within the past month), middle-aged (created 10 to 50 years ago, by the generations that include the child’s parents and grandparents), and old (created more than 100 years ago).Whatever the balance of these categories was in the 18th century, the balance in the 20th century surely shifted toward the new as radios and television sets became common in American homes. And that shift almost certainly became still more pronounced, and quickly so, in the 21st century. When the majority of Americans began using social media regularly, around 2012, they hyper-connected themselves to one another in a way that massively increased their consumption of new information—entertainment such as cat videos and celebrity gossip, yes, but also daily or hourly political outrages and hot takes on current events—while reducing the share of older information. What might the effect of that shift be?In 1790, the Anglo-Irish philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke wrote, “We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.” Thanks to social media, we are embarking on a global experiment that will test whether Burke’s fear is valid. Social media pushes people of all ages toward a focus on the scandal, joke, or conflict of the day, but the effect may be particularly profound for younger generations, who have had less opportunity to acquire older ideas and information before plugging themselves into the social-media stream.Our cultural ancestors were probably no wiser than us, on average, but the ideas we inherit from them have undergone a filtration process. We mostly learn of ideas that a succession of generations thought were worth passing on. That doesn’t mean these ideas are always right, but it does mean that they are more likely to be valuable, in the long run, than most content generated within the past month. Even though they have unprecedented access to all that has ever been written and digitized, members of Gen Z (those born after 1995 or so) may find themselves less familiar with the accumulated wisdom of humanity than any recent generation, and therefore more prone to embrace ideas that bring social prestige within their immediate network yet are ultimately misguided.For example, a few right-wing social-media platforms have enabled the most reviled ideology of the 20th century to draw in young men hungry for a sense of meaning and belonging and willing to give Nazism a second chance. Left-leaning young adults, in contrast, seem to be embracing socialism and even, in some cases, communism with an enthusiasm that at times seems detached from the history of the 20th century. And polling suggests that young people across the political spectrum are losing faith in democracy.Is There Any Way Back?Social media has changed the lives of millions of Americans with a suddenness and force that few expected. The question is whether those changes might invalidate assumptions made by Madison and the other Founders as they designed a system of self-governance. Compared with Americans in the 18th century—and even the late 20th century—citizens are now more connected to one another, in ways that increase public performance and foster moral grandstanding, on platforms that have been designed to make outrage contagious, all while focusing people’s minds on immediate conflicts and untested ideas, untethered from traditions, knowledge, and values that previously exerted a stabilizing effect. This, we believe, is why many Americans—and citizens of many other countries, too—experience democracy as a place where everything is going haywire.[There was a time in American public life when atonement was seen as a form of strength—a way not only to own up to one’s missteps but also to control the narrative. That time is over, Megan Garber writes.]It doesn’t have to be this way. Social media is not intrinsically bad, and has the power to do good—as when it brings to light previously hidden harms and gives voice to previously powerless communities. Every new communication technology brings a range of constructive and destructive effects, and over time, ways are found to improve the balance. Many researchers, legislators, charitable foundations, and tech-industry insiders are now working together in search of such improvements. We suggest three types of reform that might help:(1) Reduce the frequency and intensity of public performance. If social media creates incentives for moral grandstanding rather than authentic communication, then we should look for ways to reduce those incentives. One such approach already being evaluated by some platforms is “demetrication,” the process of obscuring like and share counts so that individual pieces of content can be evaluated on their own merit, and so that social-media users are not subject to continual, public popularity contests.(2) Reduce the reach of unverified accounts. Bad actors—trolls, foreign agents, and domestic provocateurs—benefit the most from the current system, where anyone can create hundreds of fake accounts and use them to manipulate millions of people. Social media would immediately become far less toxic, and democracies less hackable, if the major platforms required basic identity verification before anyone could open an account—or at least an account type that allowed the owner to reach large audiences. (Posting itself could remain anonymous, and registration would need to be done in a way that protected the information of users who live in countries where the government might punish dissent. For example, verification could be done in collaboration with an independent nonprofit organization.)(3) Reduce the contagiousness of low-quality information. Social media has become more toxic as friction has been removed. Adding some friction back in has been shown to improve the quality of content. For example, just after a user submits a comment, AI can identify text that’s similar to comments previously flagged as toxic and ask, “Are you sure you want to post this?” This extra step has been shown to help Instagram users rethink hurtful messages. The quality of information that is spread by recommendation algorithms could likewise be improved by giving groups of experts the ability to audit the algorithms for harms and biases.Many Americans may think that the chaos of our time has been caused by the current occupant of the White House, and that things will return to normal whenever he leaves. But if our analysis is correct, this will not happen. Too many fundamental parameters of social life have changed. The effects of these changes were apparent by 2014, and these changes themselves facilitated the election of Donald Trump.If we want our democracy to succeed—indeed, if we want the idea of democracy to regain respect in an age when dissatisfaction with democracies is rising—we’ll need to understand the many ways in which today’s social-media platforms create conditions that may be hostile to democracy’s success. And then we’ll have to take decisive action to improve social media.This article appears in the December 2019 print edition with the headline “Why It Feels Like Everything Is Going Haywire.”
World Edition - The Atlantic
How America Ends
Democracy depends on the consent of the losers. For most of the 20th century, parties and candidates in the United States have competed in elections with the understanding that electoral defeats are neither permanent nor intolerable. The losers could accept the result, adjust their ideas and coalitions, and move on to fight in the next election. Ideas and policies would be contested, sometimes viciously, but however heated the rhetoric got, defeat was not generally equated with political annihilation. The stakes could feel high, but rarely existential. In recent years, however, beginning before the election of Donald Trump and accelerating since, that has changed.To hear more feature stories, see our full list or get the Audm iPhone app. “Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage,” Trump told the crowd at his reelection kickoff event in Orlando in June. “They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.” This is the core of the president’s pitch to his supporters: He is all that stands between them and the abyss.In October, with the specter of impeachment looming, he fumed on Twitter, “What is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of The United States of America!” For good measure, he also quoted a supporter’s dark prediction that impeachment “will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric matches the tenor of the times. The body politic is more fractious than at any time in recent memory. Over the past 25 years, both red and blue areas have become more deeply hued, with Democrats clustering in cities and suburbs and Republicans filling in rural areas and exurbs. In Congress, where the two caucuses once overlapped ideologically, the dividing aisle has turned into a chasm.As partisans have drifted apart geographically and ideologically, they’ve become more hostile toward each other. In 1960, less than 5 percent of Democrats and Republicans said they’d be unhappy if their children married someone from the other party; today, 35 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats would be, according to a recent Public Religion Research Institute/Atlantic poll—far higher than the percentages that object to marriages crossing the boundaries of race and religion. As hostility rises, Americans’ trust in political institutions, and in one another, is declining. A study released by the Pew Research Center in July found that only about half of respondents believed their fellow citizens would accept election results no matter who won. At the fringes, distrust has become centrifugal: Right-wing activists in Texas and left-wing activists in California have revived talk of secession.Recent research by political scientists at Vanderbilt University and other institutions has found both Republicans and Democrats distressingly willing to dehumanize members of the opposite party. “Partisans are willing to explicitly state that members of the opposing party are like animals, that they lack essential human traits,” the researchers found. The president encourages and exploits such fears. This is a dangerous line to cross. As the researchers write, “Dehumanization may loosen the moral restraints that would normally prevent us from harming another human being.”Outright political violence remains considerably rarer than in other periods of partisan divide, including the late 1960s. But overheated rhetoric has helped radicalize some individuals. Cesar Sayoc, who was arrested for targeting multiple prominent Democrats with pipe bombs, was an avid Fox News watcher; in court filings, his lawyers said he took inspiration from Trump’s white-supremacist rhetoric. “It is impossible,” they wrote, “to separate the political climate and [Sayoc’s] mental illness.” James Hodgkinson, who shot at Republican lawmakers (and badly wounded Representative Steve Scalise) at a baseball practice, was a member of the Facebook groups Terminate the Republican Party and The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans. In other instances, political protests have turned violent, most notably in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a Unite the Right rally led to the murder of a young woman. In Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere, the left-wing “antifa” movement has clashed with police. The violence of extremist groups provides ammunition to ideologues seeking to stoke fear of the other side.What has caused such rancor? The stresses of a globalizing, postindustrial economy. Growing economic inequality. The hyperbolizing force of social media. Geographic sorting. The demagogic provocations of the president himself. As in Murder on the Orient Express, every suspect has had a hand in the crime.But the biggest driver might be demographic change. The United States is undergoing a transition perhaps no rich and stable democracy has ever experienced: Its historically dominant group is on its way to becoming a political minority—and its minority groups are asserting their co-equal rights and interests. If there are precedents for such a transition, they lie here in the United States, where white Englishmen initially predominated, and the boundaries of the dominant group have been under negotiation ever since. Yet those precedents are hardly comforting. Many of these renegotiations sparked political conflict or open violence, and few were as profound as the one now under way.Within the living memory of most Americans, a majority of the country’s residents were white Christians. That is no longer the case, and voters are not insensate to the change—nearly a third of conservatives say they face “a lot” of discrimination for their beliefs, as do more than half of white evangelicals. But more epochal than the change that has already happened is the change that is yet to come: Sometime in the next quarter century or so, depending on immigration rates and the vagaries of ethnic and racial identification, nonwhites will become a majority in the U.S. For some Americans, that change will be cause for celebration; for others, it may pass unnoticed. But the transition is already producing a sharp political backlash, exploited and exacerbated by the president. In 2016, white working-class voters who said that discrimination against whites is a serious problem, or who said they felt like strangers in their own country, were almost twice as likely to vote for Trump as those who did not. Two-thirds of Trump voters agreed that “the 2016 election represented the last chance to stop America’s decline.” In Trump, they’d found a defender.[Robert P. Jones: The electoral time machine that could reelect Trump]In 2002, the political scientist Ruy Teixeira and the journalist John Judis published a book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, which argued that demographic changes—the browning of America, along with the movement of more women, professionals, and young people into the Democratic fold—would soon usher in a “new progressive era” that would relegate Republicans to permanent minority political status. The book argued, somewhat triumphally, that the new emerging majority was inexorable and inevitable. After Barack Obama’s reelection, in 2012, Teixeira doubled down on the argument in The Atlantic, writing, “The Democratic majority could be here to stay.” Two years later, after the Democrats got thumped in the 2014 midterms, Judis partially recanted, saying that the emerging Democratic majority had turned out to be a mirage and that growing support for the GOP among the white working class would give the Republicans a long-term advantage. The 2016 election seemed to confirm this.But now many conservatives, surveying demographic trends, have concluded that Teixeira wasn’t wrong—merely premature. They can see the GOP’s sinking fortunes among younger voters, and feel the culture turning against them, condemning them today for views that were commonplace only yesterday. They are losing faith that they can win elections in the future. With this comes dark possibilities.The Republican Party has treated Trump’s tenure more as an interregnum than a revival, a brief respite that can be used to slow its decline. Instead of simply contesting elections, the GOP has redoubled its efforts to narrow the electorate and raise the odds that it can win legislative majorities with a minority of votes. In the first five years after conservative justices on the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, 39 percent of the counties that the law had previously restrained reduced their number of polling places. And while gerrymandering is a bipartisan sin, over the past decade Republicans have indulged in it more heavily. In Wisconsin last year, Democrats won 53 percent of the votes cast in state legislative races, but just 36 percent of the seats. In Pennsylvania, Republicans tried to impeach the state Supreme Court justices who had struck down a GOP attempt to gerrymander congressional districts in that state. The Trump White House has tried to suppress counts of immigrants for the 2020 census, to reduce their voting power. All political parties maneuver for advantage, but only a party that has concluded it cannot win the votes of large swaths of the public will seek to deter them from casting those votes at all.The history of the United States is rich with examples of once-dominant groups adjusting to the rise of formerly marginalized populations—sometimes gracefully, more often bitterly, and occasionally violently. Partisan coalitions in the United States are constantly reshuffling, realigning along new axes. Once-rigid boundaries of faith, ethnicity, and class often prove malleable. Issues gain salience or fade into irrelevance; yesterday’s rivals become tomorrow’s allies.But sometimes, that process of realignment breaks down. Instead of reaching out and inviting new allies into its coalition, the political right hardens, turning against the democratic processes it fears will subsume it. A conservatism defined by ideas can hold its own against progressivism, winning converts to its principles and evolving with each generation. A conservatism defined by identity reduces the complex calculus of politics to a simple arithmetic question—and at some point, the numbers no longer add up.Photograph: Sam Kaplan; prop styling: Brian ByrneTrump has led his party to this dead end, and it may well cost him his chance for reelection, presuming he is not removed through impeachment. But the president’s defeat would likely only deepen the despair that fueled his rise, confirming his supporters’ fear that the demographic tide has turned against them. That fear is the single greatest threat facing American democracy, the force that is already battering down precedents, leveling norms, and demolishing guardrails. When a group that has traditionally exercised power comes to believe that its eclipse is inevitable, and that the destruction of all it holds dear will follow, it will fight to preserve what it has—whatever the cost.Adam Przeworski, a political scientist who has studied struggling democracies in Eastern Europe and Latin America, has argued that to survive, democratic institutions “must give all the relevant political forces a chance to win from time to time in the competition of interests and values.” But, he adds, they also have to do something else, of equal importance: “They must make even losing under democracy more attractive than a future under non-democratic outcomes.” That conservatives—despite currently holding the White House, the Senate, and many state governments—are losing faith in their ability to win elections in the future bodes ill for the smooth functioning of American democracy. That they believe these electoral losses would lead to their destruction is even more worrying.We should be careful about overstating the dangers. It is not 1860 again in the United States—it is not even 1850. But numerous examples from American history—most notably the antebellum South—offer a cautionary tale about how quickly a robust democracy can weaken when a large section of the population becomes convinced that it cannot continue to win elections, and also that it cannot afford to lose them.The collapse of the mainstream Republican Party in the face of Trumpism is at once a product of highly particular circumstances and a disturbing echo of other events. In his recent study of the emergence of democracy in Western Europe, the political scientist Daniel Ziblatt zeroes in on a decisive factor distinguishing the states that achieved democratic stability from those that fell prey to authoritarian impulses: The key variable was not the strength or character of the political left, or of the forces pushing for greater democratization, so much as the viability of the center-right. A strong center-right party could wall off more extreme right-wing movements, shutting out the radicals who attacked the political system itself.[Read: Daniel Ziblatt on why conservative parties are central to democracy]The left is by no means immune to authoritarian impulses; some of the worst excesses of the 20th century were carried out by totalitarian left-wing regimes. But right-wing parties are typically composed of people who have enjoyed power and status within a society. They might include disproportionate numbers of leaders—business magnates, military officers, judges, governors—upon whose loyalty and support the government depends. If groups that traditionally have enjoyed privileged positions see a future for themselves in a more democratic society, Ziblatt finds, they will accede to it. But if “conservative forces believe that electoral politics will permanently exclude them from government, they are more likely to reject democracy outright.”Ziblatt points to Germany in the 1930s, the most catastrophic collapse of a democracy in the 20th century, as evidence that the fate of democracy lies in the hands of conservatives. Where the center-right flourishes, it can defend the interests of its adherents, starving more radical movements of support. In Germany, where center-right parties faltered, “not their strength, but rather their weakness” became the driving force behind democracy’s collapse.Of course, the most catastrophic collapse of a democracy in the 19th century took place right here in the United States, sparked by the anxieties of white voters who feared the decline of their own power within a diversifying nation.The slaveholding South exercised disproportionate political power in the early republic. America’s first dozen presidents—excepting only those named Adams—were slaveholders. Twelve of the first 16 secretaries of state came from slave states. The South initially dominated Congress as well, buoyed by its ability to count three-fifths of the enslaved persons held as property for the purposes of apportionment.Politics in the early republic was factious and fractious, dominated by crosscutting interests. But as Northern states formally abandoned slavery, and then embraced westward expansion, tensions rose between the states that exalted free labor and the ones whose fortunes were directly tied to slave labor, bringing sectional conflict to the fore. By the mid-19th century, demographics were clearly on the side of the free states, where the population was rapidly expanding. Immigrants surged across the Atlantic, finding jobs in Northern factories and settling on midwestern farms. By the outbreak of the Civil War, the foreign-born would form 19 percent of the population of the Northern states, but just 4 percent of the Southern population.The new dynamic was first felt in the House of Representatives, the most democratic institution of American government—and the Southern response was a concerted effort to remove the topic of slavery from debate. In 1836, Southern congressmen and their allies imposed a gag rule on the House, barring consideration of petitions that so much as mentioned slavery, which would stand for nine years. As the historian Joanne Freeman shows in her recent book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War, slave-state representatives in Washington also turned to bullying, brandishing weapons, challenging those who dared disparage the peculiar institution to duels, or simply attacking them on the House floor with fists or canes. In 1845, an antislavery speech delivered by Ohio’s Joshua Giddings so upset Louisiana’s John Dawson that he cocked his pistol and announced that he intended to kill his fellow congressman. In a scene more Sergio Leone than Frank Capra, other representatives—at least four of them with guns of their own—rushed to either side, in a tense standoff. By the late 1850s, the threat of violence was so pervasive that members regularly entered the House armed.As Southern politicians perceived that demographic trends were starting to favor the North, they began to regard popular democracy itself as a threat. “The North has acquired a decided ascendancy over every department of this Government,” warned South Carolina’s Senator John C. Calhoun in 1850, a “despotic” situation, in which the interests of the South were bound to be sacrificed, “however oppressive the effects may be.” With the House tipping against them, Southern politicians focused on the Senate, insisting that the admission of any free states be balanced by new slave states, to preserve their control of the chamber. They looked to the Supreme Court—which by the 1850s had a five-justice majority from slaveholding states—to safeguard their power. And, fatefully, they struck back at the power of Northerners to set the rules of their own communities, launching a frontal assault on states’ rights.But the South and its conciliating allies overreached. A center-right consensus, drawing Southern plantation owners together with Northern businessmen, had long kept the Union intact. As demographics turned against the South, though, its politicians began to abandon hope of convincing their Northern neighbors of the moral justice of their position, or of the pragmatic case for compromise. Instead of reposing faith in electoral democracy to protect their way of life, they used the coercive power of the federal government to compel the North to support the institution of slavery, insisting that anyone providing sanctuary to slaves, even in free states, be punished: The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required Northern law-enforcement officials to arrest those who escaped from Southern plantations, and imposed penalties on citizens who gave them shelter.The persecution complex of the South succeeded where decades of abolitionist activism had failed, producing the very hostility to slavery that Southerners feared. The sight of armed marshals ripping apart families and marching their neighbors back to slavery roused many Northerners from their moral torpor. The push-and-pull of democratic politics had produced setbacks for the South over the previous decades, but the South’s abandonment of electoral democracy in favor of countermajoritarian politics would prove catastrophic to its cause.Today, a Republican Party that appeals primarily to white Christian voters is fighting a losing battle. The Electoral College, Supreme Court, and Senate may delay defeat for a time, but they cannot postpone it forever.[From January/February 2009: Hua Hsu’s cover story on the end of white America]The GOP’s efforts to cling to power by coercion instead of persuasion have illuminated the perils of defining a political party in a pluralistic democracy around a common heritage, rather than around values or ideals. Consider Trump’s push to slow the pace of immigration, which has backfired spectacularly, turning public opinion against his restrictionist stance. Before Trump announced his presidential bid, in 2015, less than a quarter of Americans thought legal immigration should be increased; today, more than a third feel that way. Whatever the merits of Trump’s particular immigration proposals, he has made them less likely to be enacted.For a populist, Trump is remarkably unpopular. But no one should take comfort from that fact. The more he radicalizes his opponents against his agenda, the more he gives his own supporters to fear. The excesses of the left bind his supporters more tightly to him, even as the excesses of the right make it harder for the Republican Party to command majority support, validating the fear that the party is passing into eclipse, in a vicious cycle.Photograph: Sam Kaplan; prop styling: Brian ByrneThe right, and the country, can come back from this. Our history is rife with influential groups that, after discarding their commitment to democratic principles in an attempt to retain their grasp on power, lost their fight and then discovered they could thrive in the political order they had so feared. The Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, criminalizing criticism of their administration; Redemption-era Democrats stripped black voters of the franchise; and Progressive Republicans wrested municipal governance away from immigrant voters. Each rejected popular democracy out of fear that it would lose at the polls, and terror at what might then result. And in each case democracy eventually prevailed, without tragic effect on the losers. The American system works more often than it doesn’t.The years around the First World War offer another example. A flood of immigrants, particularly from Eastern and Southern Europe, left many white Protestants feeling threatened. In rapid succession, the nation instituted Prohibition, in part to regulate the social habits of these new populations; staged the Palmer Raids, which rounded up thousands of political radicals and deported hundreds; saw the revival of the Ku Klux Klan as a national organization with millions of members, including tens of thousands who marched openly through Washington, D.C.; and passed new immigration laws, slamming shut the doors to the United States.Under President Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic Party was at the forefront of this nativist backlash. Four years after Wilson left office, the party faced a battle between Wilson’s son-in-law and Al Smith—a New York Catholic of Irish, German, and Italian extraction who opposed Prohibition and denounced lynching—for the presidential nomination. The convention deadlocked for more than 100 ballots, ultimately settling on an obscure nominee. But in the next nominating fight, four years after that, Smith prevailed, shouldering aside the nativist forces within the party. He brought together newly enfranchised women and the ethnic voters of growing industrial cities. The Democrats lost the presidential race in 1928—but won the next five, in one of the most dominant runs in American political history. The most effective way to protect the things they cherished, Democratic politicians belatedly discovered, wasn’t by locking immigrants out of the party, but by inviting them in.Whether the American political system today can endure without fracturing further, Daniel Ziblatt’s research suggests, may depend on the choices the center-right now makes. If the center-right decides to accept some electoral defeats and then seeks to gain adherents via argumentation and attraction—and, crucially, eschews making racial heritage its organizing principle—then the GOP can remain vibrant. Its fissures will heal and its prospects will improve, as did those of the Democratic Party in the 1920s, after Wilson. Democracy will be maintained. But if the center-right, surveying demographic upheaval and finding the prospect of electoral losses intolerable, casts its lot with Trumpism and a far right rooted in ethno-nationalism, then it is doomed to an ever smaller proportion of voters, and risks revisiting the ugliest chapters of our history.Two documents produced after Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012 and before Trump’s election in 2016 lay out the stakes and the choice. After Romney’s stinging defeat in the presidential election, the Republican National Committee decided that if it held to its course, it was destined for political exile. It issued a report calling on the GOP to do more to win over “Hispanic[s], Asian and Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Indian Americans, Native Americans, women, and youth[s].” There was an edge of panic in that recommendation; those groups accounted for nearly three-quarters of the ballots cast in 2012. “Unless the RNC gets serious about tackling this problem, we will lose future elections,” the report warned. “The data demonstrates this.”But it wasn’t just the pragmatists within the GOP who felt this panic. In the most influential declaration of right-wing support for Trumpism, the conservative writer Michael Anton declared in the Claremont Review of Books that “2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die.” His cry of despair offered a bleak echo of the RNC’s demographic analysis. “If you haven’t noticed, our side has been losing consistently since 1988,” he wrote, averring that “the deck is stacked overwhelmingly against us.” He blamed “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners,” which had placed Democrats “on the cusp of a permanent victory that will forever obviate [their] need to pretend to respect democratic and constitutional niceties.”The Republican Party faced a choice between these two competing visions in the last presidential election. The post-2012 report defined the GOP ideologically, urging its leaders to reach out to new groups, emphasize the values they had in common, and rebuild the party into an organization capable of winning a majority of the votes in a presidential race. Anton’s essay, by contrast, defined the party as the defender of “a people, a civilization” threatened by America’s growing diversity. The GOP’s efforts to broaden its coalition, he thundered, were an abject surrender. If it lost the next election, conservatives would be subjected to “vindictive persecution against resistance and dissent.”Anton and some 63 million other Americans charged the cockpit. The standard-bearers of the Republican Party were vanquished by a candidate who had never spent a day in public office, and who oozed disdain for democratic processes. Instead of reaching out to a diversifying electorate, Donald Trump doubled down on core Republican constituencies, promising to protect them from a culture and a polity that, he said, were turning against them.[The gravest danger to American democracy isn’t an excess of vitriol, argues Adam Serwer. It’s the false promise of civility.]When Trump’s presidency comes to its end, the Republican Party will confront the same choice it faced before his rise, only even more urgently. In 2013, the party’s leaders saw the path that lay before them clearly, and urged Republicans to reach out to voters of diverse backgrounds whose own values matched the “ideals, philosophy and principles” of the GOP. Trumpism deprioritizes conservative ideas and principles in favor of ethno-nationalism.The conservative strands of America’s political heritage—a bias in favor of continuity, a love for traditions and institutions, a healthy skepticism of sharp departures—provide the nation with a requisite ballast. America is at once a land of continual change and a nation of strong continuities. Each new wave of immigration to the United States has altered its culture, but the immigrants themselves have embraced and thus conserved many of its core traditions. To the enormous frustration of their clergy, Jews and Catholics and Muslims arriving on these shores became a little bit congregationalist, shifting power from the pulpits to the pews. Peasants and laborers became more entrepreneurial. Many new arrivals became more egalitarian. And all became more American.By accepting these immigrants, and inviting them to subscribe to the country’s founding ideals, American elites avoided displacement. The country’s dominant culture has continually redefined itself, enlarging its boundaries to retain a majority of a changing population. When the United States came into being, most Americans were white, Protestant, and English. But the ineradicable difference between a Welshman and a Scot soon became all but undetectable. Whiteness itself proved elastic, first excluding Jews and Italians and Irish, and then stretching to encompass them. Established Churches gave way to a variety of Protestant sects, and the proliferation of other faiths made “Christian” a coherent category; that broadened, too, into the Judeo-Christian tradition. If America’s white Christian majority is gone, then some new majority is already emerging to take its place—some new, more capacious way of understanding what it is to belong to the American mainstream.So strong is the attraction of the American idea that it infects even our dissidents. The suffragists at Seneca Falls, Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and Harvey Milk in front of San Francisco’s city hall all quoted the Declaration of Independence. The United States possesses a strong radical tradition, but its most successful social movements have generally adopted the language of conservatism, framing their calls for change as an expression of America’s founding ideals rather than as a rejection of them.Even today, large numbers of conservatives retain the courage of their convictions, believing they can win new adherents to their cause. They have not despaired of prevailing at the polls and they are not prepared to abandon moral suasion in favor of coercion; they are fighting to recover their party from a president whose success was built on convincing voters that the country is slipping away from them.The stakes in this battle on the right are much higher than the next election. If Republican voters can’t be convinced that democratic elections will continue to offer them a viable path to victory, that they can thrive within a diversifying nation, and that even in defeat their basic rights will be protected, then Trumpism will extend long after Trump leaves office—and our democracy will suffer for it.This article appears in the December 2019 print edition with the headline “How America Ends.”
World Edition - The Atlantic
A Nation Coming Apart
The 45th president of the United States is uniquely unfit for office and poses a multifaceted threat to our country’s democratic institutions. Yet he might not represent the most severe challenge facing our country. The structural failures in our democratic system that allowed a grifter into the White House in the first place—this might be our gravest challenge. Or perhaps it is the tribalization of our politics, brought about by pathological levels of inequality, technological and demographic upheaval, and the tenacious persistence of racism. Or maybe it is that we as a people no longer seem to know who we are or what our common purpose is.Last year, Cullen Murphy, our editor at large, and I began a conversation with Danielle Allen, the author of a matchless book on the meaning and promise of America, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, about the causes of this dispiriting moment. Allen, who is the James Bryant Conant University Professor and the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, told me that our system of self-governance has been in crisis for a long time, since well before the dark night of Trumpism. Disenfranchisement and self-disenfranchisement; the radically uneven distribution of wealth and opportunity; institutions so dysfunctional that it would be irrational for citizens to invest in them; the rise of the technocracy—all of these threaten to place the American experiment in permanent eclipse.“We have to think urgently about representation,” she told me. “The most important invention of the 18th century that allowed us to run a democracy at scale was representative government—the election of representatives to a legislature empowered by the people. We have to talk about this. We have to talk about technocracy, how it has driven massive sociopolitical change” without answering to the people who are experiencing those changes.Out of our conversations, and others like it, emerged the idea for the special issue you are now reading, what we have called “How to Stop a Civil War.” We don’t believe that conditions in the United States today resemble those of 1850s America. But we worry that the ties that bind us are fraying at alarming speed—we are becoming contemptuous of each other in ways that are both dire and possibly irreversible.By edict of our founders, The Atlantic is meant to be the magazine of the American idea. In November 1857, when our first issue was published, the American idea was besieged by the forces of slavery. The Atlantic, then as now, stood for American unity, but it also stood for the idea that America is by its nature both imperfect and ultimately perfectible. The untiring pursuit of a more perfect union is at the core of the American idea.[From October 2018: The American crisis in democracy]When I discussed the notion of this issue with the editor of our print magazine, Don Peck, and his deputy, Denise Wills, we reached the conclusion that any Atlantic journalism confronting questions of American unity and fracture would have to be both analytical and prescriptive, and would require the services of some of America’s best writers and thinkers.We have spread the feature stories in this special issue across three parts. In the first, “On the Forces That Pull Us Apart,” our ideas editor, Yoni Appelbaum (the author of our prescient March cover story calling for the president’s impeachment), dissects the exceptional challenges America faces as a unitary construct: He notes that no rich, stable democracy has made the demographic transition we are now experiencing. Jonathan Haidt and Tobias Rose-Stockwell diagnose the impact of social media on democratic practices and on our cognitive capacity itself. Tara Westover examines the rural-urban divide in the context of our national fracturing, and Jonathan Rauch and Ray La Raja argue that too much democracy is bad for democracy.[“The left and the right, the elite and the non-elite, the urban and the rural—however you want to slice it up—they no longer see themselves reflected in the other person,” Tara Westover tells Jeffrey Goldberg.]In Part 2, “Appeals to Our Better Nature,” Caitlin Flanagan goes directly at the most divisive and emotional issue of our time—abortion—and argues for mutual empathy; Tom Junod tells us how the legendary Mister Rogers, who was first his profile subject and later his friend, is misunderstood; and Andrew Ferguson asks whether the techniques of marriage counseling can be applied to the cause of national unity.In Part 3, “Reconciliation & Its Alternatives,” we feature Danielle Allen’s dazzling treatise, “The Road From Serfdom,” along with a call from James Mattis to remember and refine the principles of patriotism and national purpose. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the brilliant creator of Hamilton, makes the case for the indispensability of art in a polarized time. And Adam Serwer, one of the great chroniclers of the Trump era, offers a dissent to the idea that we should prize a return to civility, and argues against reconciliation as a substitute for truth-telling.Elsewhere in this issue, you will find essays, reports, and interviews from some of our best writers: Megan Garber, Sophie Gilbert, David Frum, Graeme Wood, Adrienne Green. The multitalented Amanda Mull launches her new column, “Material World,” and we’ve reserved our back page for the singular James Parker.Our immodest hope is that this special issue, appearing on newsstands exactly 162 years after our first issue, will provide at least a partial road map for a country stuck in a cul-de-sac of its own making.CERTAIN FEATURES OF THE ATLANTIC have remained constant over the preceding 162 years—our commitment to publishing carefully considered narrative and strongly worded argument, for instance. Some things change periodically, though, including our design, and even our nameplate itself. This month marks the beginning of a new era for The Atlantic’s design. After much deliberation and experimentation (and trepidation), we have decided to replace our traditional cover logo—our flag—with a simple, declarative A. This dramatic new exterior look is matched by a reimagining of our interior aesthetic.Earlier this year, we asked two of the great book and magazine designers of our time, Peter Mendelsund and Oliver Munday, to serve as The Atlantic’s creative leaders. Their mandate was to rethink everything about the way we present ourselves to the world, and they immediately set out to challenge our habits and assumptions. Their first step was to immerse themselves in our archives, in order to understand the evolution of our design language across the years. Their second step was to propose a bold change to our cover nameplate. The A, they argued, is classic, confident, and iconic. We already use the A across many of our platforms—the Atlantic app shows up on smartphone home screens as an A.The redesign of our print magazine is the first phase of a redesign that will soon stretch across all of our journalism—you will shortly be seeing our new design concepts manifesting themselves on your screens, for instance.The crucial goal of the Atlantic’s renovation is to help readers better understand our words, through clarity in typeface and design, and through investment in superior photography and illustration. Peter, Oliver, and their enormously talented team commissioned our first unique typeface—we call it Atlantic Condensed—built on the typeface first used in 1857. And they have weeded away many of the interior design features that have accreted over the decades. The goal of this effort is to make The Atlantic visually arresting, classically informed, and radically modern, all at the same time. Peter, Oliver, and their design team have achieved something remarkable, I believe. I hope you will agree.This article appears in the December 2019 print edition with the headline “ A Nation Coming Apart.”
World Edition - The Atlantic
The Enemy Within
In 1838, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois. The subject was citizenship and the preservation of America’s political institutions. The backdrop was the threat posed to those institutions by the evil of slavery. Lincoln warned that the greatest danger to the nation came from within. All the armies of the world could not crush us, he maintained, but we could still “die by suicide.”To hear more feature stories, see our full list or get the Audm iPhone app. And now, today, we look around. Our politics are paralyzing the country. We practice suspicion or contempt where trust is needed, imposing a sentence of anger and loneliness on others and ourselves. We scorch our opponents with language that precludes compromise. We brush aside the possibility that a person with whom we disagree might be right. We talk about what divides us and seldom acknowledge what unites us. Meanwhile, the docket of urgent national issues continues to grow—unaddressed and, under present circumstances, impossible to address.Contending viewpoints and vocal dissent are inevitable, and not the issue. A year ago I stepped down from the best job in the world, as our secretary of defense, over a matter of principle because of grave policy differences with the administration—stating my reasons in a letter that left no room for doubt. What is dangerous is not that people have serious differences. It is the tone—the snarl, the scorn, the lacerating despair.Are we unaware of the consequences of national fracturing and disunity? Do we want to bequeath such a country to our children? Have we taught them the principles that citizens of this democracy must live by? Do we even remember those principles ourselves?Here is what we seem to have forgotten:America is not some finished work or failed project but an ongoing experiment. And it is an experiment that, by design, will never end. If parts of the machine are broken, then the responsibility of citizens is to fix the machine—not throw it away. The Founders, with their unsentimental assessment of human nature, brought forth a constitutional system robust enough to withstand great stress and yet capable of profound correction to address injustice. (The Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. The Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.) The scale of the Founders’ achievement was unprecedented. Except in small pockets here and there, a democratic system such as ours had never before been tried; the Founders applied it to a nation that would soon span a continent. I think of our own document’s durable capacity when I consider the travails of the United Kingdom, which lacks a written constitution. The lesson is not that we can sit back in relief. It is that we must continue conducting the experiment.Defects are part of the human condition. In a way, this is good news. Our imperfections can—and ought to—draw us together in humility, realism, patience, and determination. No one has a monopoly on wisdom or is free from error. Everyone benefits from understanding other points of view. The foundational virtue of democracy is trust—not trust in one’s own rectitude or opinion, but trust in the capacity of collective deliberation to move us forward. That kind of trust is diminishing. About two-thirds of Americans in a recent Pew survey expressed the view that declining trust—in government, in one another—is hampering our ability to confront the country’s problems. Yet trust is not gone. It binds the military, as I’ve seen firsthand in locales as varied as Fallujah and Kandahar, Fort Bragg and Coronado. It exists, in my personal experience, among members of the Intelligence Committee in the Senate and members of the Armed Services Committees of both houses on Capitol Hill—remarkable outliers in an otherwise poisonous environment. Trust is not some weather system over which we have no control. It is a decision about conducting the nation’s business that each of us has the power to make. Building trust means listening to others rather than shutting them down. It also means looking for the right way to define a given problem—asking questions the right way so as to enlist opponents rather than provoke them. There’s a famous observation attributed to Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” Too often we define our great national challenges—climate change, immigration, health care, guns—in a way that guarantees division into warring camps. Instead we should be asking one another: What could “better” look like?Acting wisely means acting with a time horizon not of months or years but of generations. Short-term thinking tends toward the selfish: Better get mine while I can! Long-term thinking plays to higher ideals. Thomas Jefferson’s idea of “usufruct”—in his metaphor, the responsibility to preserve fertile topsoil from landowner to landowner—embodied an obligation of stewardship and intergenerational fairness. Our Founders thought in centuries. Such thinking discourages shortsighted temptations (such as passing an immense burden of national debt onto our descendants) and encourages the effective management of intractable problems. It conditions us to take heart from the slow accretion of small improvements—the slow accretion that gave us paved roads, public schools, and electrification. I remember being a boy in Washington State and the sense of wonder I felt as bridges replaced ferries on the Columbia River. I remember my grandfather pointing out new power lines extending into our rural part of the state. I think often of the long history of nuclear-arms control. Steady diplomatic engagement with Moscow over five decades—pursued until recently—ultimately gave us an approximately three-quarters reduction in nuclear arsenals, and greater security. Here’s the not-so-secret recipe, applicable to members of Congress and community activists alike: Set a strategic goal and keep at it. Former Secretary of State George Shultz, using his own Jeffersonian metaphor, likened the effort to gardening: a continual, never-ending process of tilling, planting, and weeding.Cynicism is cowardice. We all know cynics. From time to time, we all fall prey to cynicism. But cynicism is corrosive when it saturates a society—as it has long saturated Russia’s, and as it has saturated too much of ours. Cynicism fosters a distrust of reality. It is nothing less than a form of surrender. It provokes a suspicion that hidden malign forces are at play. It instills a sense of victimhood. It may be psychically gratifying in the moment, but it solves nothing.Leadership doesn’t mean someone riding in on a white horse. We’re deluding ourselves if we think one person has all the answers. In a democracy, real leadership is slow, quiet, diplomatic, collegial, and often frustrating. I will always associate these qualities with General Colin Powell, a personal mentor who understood that to lead also means to serve. A leader, Dwight Eisenhower noted, is not someone who barks “Rise” or “Sit down.” Leadership, he said, is “the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it.” And it’s a two-way street. As Eisenhower put it, one thing every leader needs is “the inspiration he gets from the people he leads.”Achieving results nationally means participating locally. The scale of the country’s challenges can seem so vast that only grand solutions offer any hope of meeting them. We give up on singles and doubles, hoping some slugger will come along and swing for the fences. This is wrong on two counts. First, the steep decline of democratic participation is itself one of our central challenges, reflecting a loss of conviction that government is actually in our hands. Only participation can solve the participation problem. Second, the impact of participation trickles up. Rosa Parks didn’t start out by taking on all of Jim Crow; she started out by taking a seat on a local bus. National efforts on the environment, health care, highways, the minimum wage, workplace safety—all got their start in one state or another. And Washington isn’t synonymous with America, anyway. Community life is sustained locally, not only through government but through a wealth of civic associations that depend on the participation of ordinary people. The president famously possesses a bully pulpit, but the impetus for change just as often comes from the pews.The “bonds of affection” Lincoln spoke about are paramount. Maybe it’s a by-product of our success as a nation that Americans take for granted what we have in common. The freedoms we enjoy. The traditions we celebrate. Our rough-and-tumble sense of humor. We need one another the most at moments of crisis, and historically we have come together at such moments—after Pearl Harbor, after 9/11. The adversity of economic depression and world war served as a crucible for an entire generation of men and women, who created and sustained a stable world for half a century. Today we are coping with the consequences of pent-up neglect and intensifying tribal warfare, not of sudden attack. But we face a crisis nonetheless. The surest path to catastrophe is to sever those bonds of affection.Our core institutions have value, even if all institutions are flawed. We live in an anti-institutional age. The favorability numbers of virtually every institution except the military are low, and dropping. (John McCain once told me that the only people who liked Congress were family members and salaried employees. His wife, Cindy, turned to him and jokingly said, “Don’t count on family members.”) For all their imperfections, institutions are the best way to transmit what is good down the corridors of time. Civilization is more fragile than one might think; during my career in the military, I saw it destroyed in front of my eyes. We need to make institutions better and stronger, not tear them down. Virulent, take-no-prisoners attacks on the media, the judiciary, labor unions, universities, teachers, scientists, civil servants—pick your target—don’t help anyone. When you tear down institutions, you tear down the scaffolding on which society is built. Allowing institutions to erode—as we have allowed our educational system to erode—is as bad as tearing them down.[Whether the American political system today can endure without fracturing further may depend on the choices of the center-right, Yoni Appelbaum writes.]I have visited schools and spoken with students. I worry not only about budget cutbacks and funding inequities but also about classroom content. A proper understanding of our national story is absent. Students come away well versed in our flaws and shortcomings. They do not come away with an understanding of our higher ideals, our manifest contributions, our revolutionary aspirations. They do not come away with an understanding of the basic principles I have outlined. Or with an appreciation of how a thoughtful and clear-eyed person can also be—and indeed must be—a patriot.Every generation since the Revolution has added to the legacy of the Founders in the endless quest to make the union “more perfect.” And every generation shoulders a responsibility to pass along our freedoms, and the wherewithal to secure and enhance them, to the next generation. Having traveled during the past few months to every corner of the country, I know that Americans in general are better—kinder, more thoughtful, more respectful—than our political leadership.But are we truly doing our duty by future generations? For too many, e pluribus unum is just a Latin phrase on the coins in their hands—not a concept with a powerful moral charge. It is hard work, building a country. In a democracy, it is noble work that all of us have to do.
World Edition - The Atlantic
What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Abortion
Images above: An ad for Lysol that began appearing in the 1930s, and a 3-D ultrasound of a 12-week fetusIn 1956, two American physicians, J. A. Presley and W. E. Brown, colleagues at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, decided that four recent admissions to their hospital were significant enough to warrant a published report. “Lysol-Induced Criminal Abortion” appeared in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. It describes four women who were admitted to the hospital in extreme distress, all of them having had “criminal abortions” with what the doctors believed to be an unusual agent: Lysol. The powerful cleaner had been pumped into their wombs. Three of them survived, and one of them died.To hear more feature stories, see our full list or get the Audm iPhone app. The first woman arrived at the hospital in a “hysterical state.” She was 32 years old, her husband was with her, and she was in the midst of an obvious medical crisis: Her temperature was 104 degrees, and her urine was “port-wine” colored and contained extremely high levels of albumin, indicating that her kidneys were shutting down. Her husband eventually confessed that they had gone to a doctor for an abortion two days earlier. Four hours after admission, the woman became agitated; she was put in restraints and sedated. Two hours after that, she began to breathe in the deep and ragged manner of the dying. An autopsy revealed massive necrosis of her kidneys and liver.The second woman was 28 years old and bleeding profusely from her vagina. “After considerable questioning,” she admitted that two days earlier, a substance had been injected into her womb by the same doctor who had treated the first patient. She was given a blood transfusion and antibiotics. Doctors performed a dilation and curettage, removing necrotic tissue that had a strong smell of phenol, then a main ingredient in Lysol. She survived.The third woman was 35 and had been bleeding abnormally for two weeks. She told the physicians that her doctor had given her “a prescription for medicine,” but she denied having had an abortion. She was given a blood transfusion and antibiotics, but did not improve. Her pelvic discharge smelled strongly of phenol. She was given a D and C, and a placenta was removed. She recovered.The fourth patient was 18 years old and had come to the hospital because of unusual bleeding, cramping, and “a loss of water through the vagina”—probably the beginning of labor, brought on by an abortion. Shortly after being admitted, she spontaneously aborted a four-and-a-half month fetus. Phenol was found in both the fetal and placental tissue. The girl recovered.I have read many accounts of complications and deaths from the years when abortion was illegal in this country. The subject has always compelled me, because my mother told me many times that when she was a young nurse at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, she had twice sat beside girls as they died from botched abortions. Both girls were interviewed by detectives, who demanded to know the abortionists’ names, but both refused to reveal them. “They were too terrified,” my mother always said. The Arkansas cases contain strikingly consistent aspects of such reports: The women seem to have waited a long time before getting help, and they tried not to admit they’d had abortions, hoping they could be treated without telling the truth. Abortionists—to use the term of that era—typically extracted three promises from the women who sought them out: They must keep the procedure a secret; they must never reveal the abortionist’s name; and no matter what happened to them afterward, they must never contact him or her again.What surprised me about the Arkansas doctors’ account was their confidence that while “the methods and drugs used in performing criminal abortions are legion,” Lysol was “one of the more rare abortifacients.” To the contrary, Lysol was commonly used in abortions. This was a fact that millions of women knew via the oldest whisper network in the country, but that physicians—almost all of them male—would discover slowly, leaving behind a bread-crumb trail of reports like this one: based on recent admissions, and available only to other doctors who happened to pick up a particular issue of a particular journal.In addition to medical reports, we find evidence of Lysol abortions in personal accounts—the actor Margot Kidder, for example, spoke powerfully about hers—and in testimony from criminal proceedings. Court records from 1946, for instance, tell the story of a 16-year-old California girl named Rebecca, who moved in with her sister-in-law to hide her pregnancy and to get an abortion. A local woman named Sophie agreed to perform it. She made a mixture of boiling water, Lysol, and soap; injected the hot fluid into Rebecca’s uterus; and told her to walk around for two hours. In the middle of the night, the girl began having cramps that wouldn’t let up; she delivered a “well-formed, eight-inch fetus,” which her sister, Rayette, buried. Sophie returned the next day to collect the balance of her $25 fee. The girl was in distress but was given only aspirin. By that night, her symptoms had become intolerable, and Rayette brought her to the hospital. Sophie was later convicted and sent to prison; it’s unclear whether Rebecca survived.[From May 2007: Caitlin Flanagan on abortion and the bloodiness of being female]By the 1960s, doctors seemed to have realized that Lysol was in fact a commonly used abortifacient, one with particular dangers. In 1961, Dr. Karl Finzer of Buffalo, New York, published a paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal titled “Lower Nephron Nephrosis Due to Concentrated Lysol Vaginal Douches.” He described two cases. One of the women died; the other survived. In 1969, two physicians, Robert H. Bartlett and Clement Yahia, published a paper in The New England Journal of Medicine titled “Management of Septic Chemical Abortion With Renal Failure.” It included five case histories of women who had attempted abortions, two with Lysol. The doctors estimated that 200,000 to 1 million criminal abortions took place each year in America, and that in many parts of the country abortion was a leading cause of maternal death. Overall mortality for patients who had become septic from botched abortions and were admitted to a hospital was 11 to 22 percent, but for those whose abortions had been induced with soap or Lysol, the mortality rate was reportedly an astounding 50 to 66 percent. “These young women,” the authors reported dispassionately, “are all potentially salvageable.”We will never know how many women had abortions via this method, or how many died because of it. Why was Lysol, with its strong, unpleasant smell and its corrosive effect on skin, so often used? Because its early formulation contained cresol, a phenol compound that induced abortion; because it was easily available, a household product that aroused no suspicion when women bought it; and because for more than three decades, Lysol advertised the product as an effective form of birth control, advising women to douche with it in diluted form after sex, thus powerfully linking the product to the notion of family planning.In a seemingly endless series of advertisements published from the ’20s through the ’50s, the Lysol company told the same story over and over again: One woman or another had “neglected her feminine hygiene” and thereby rendered herself odious to her husband, leaving her “held in a web of indifference” and introducing “doubt” and “inhibitions” into their intimate life. It was illegal to advertise contraception nationally before 1977, so the Lysol ads performed a coy bit of misdirection—they said that if women didn’t douche after sex, they would lose their “dainty,” or “feminine,” or “youthful” appeal. The implication was that sex made them stink, which revolted their husbands. However, women in the past knew what women of the present know: Having sex doesn’t make a woman stink, and the only necessary items for keeping clean are soap and water.Read with this in mind, the ads appear rife with coded references to the idea of contraception. One woman’s doctor has told her “never to run such careless risks” and prescribed Lysol. Another is told by her doctor that failing to douche with Lysol could “lead to serious consequences.” Many of the ads stress that Lysol works “even in the presence of mucous matter,” a possible reference to the by-products of intercourse; some promote the fact that it “leaves no greasy aftereffect,” probably a reference to the vaginal jellies that some women used as birth control.A doctor tells one woman, “It’s foolish to risk your marriage happiness by being careless about feminine hygiene—even once!” This is the language of contraception: something that must be used every single time, that can lead to serious repercussions if skipped even once, that one should never be careless about. The “doubts” introduced to the marital lovemaking, and the “inhibitions,” are not the result of stink; they are the outcome of there being no reliable form of birth control and the constant anxiety that sex could result in an unwanted pregnancy.There are dozens of these ads on the internet, where they forever shock young feminists. I’ve seen so many of them that I thought I knew all of their tropes and euphemisms. But this summer I came across one that stopped me cold. It was a simple image of a very particular kind of female suffering. The woman in this ad was not caught in a web of indifference; she was not relieved because she had been prescribed Lysol by her doctor. The woman in this image has been “careless”; she is facing the “serious consequences.”In a single panel, we see a line drawing of the kind of middle-class white housewife who was a staple of postwar advertising, although invariably the products she was selling were of use and of interest to women of all socioeconomic classes and all races—this product in particular. Her hair is brushed and shining, her nails are manicured, and she wears a wedding ring. But her head is buried in her hands, and behind her loom the pages of a giant calendar. Over her bowed head, in neat Palmer-method handwriting, is a single sentence: “I just can’t face it again.”There’s a whole world in that sentence. To be a woman is to bear the entire consequence of sex. And here is one woman bearing that consequence: a married woman—probably with other children, for this is a matter of “again”—who for whatever reason is at her breaking point.What could make a married woman living during the great postwar Baby Boom unable to face one more pregnancy? Start making a list of the possible reasons, and you might never stop. Maybe she’d had terrible pregnancies and traumatic births and she couldn’t go through another one. Maybe she had suffered terribly from postpartum depression, and she’d just gotten past it. Maybe her husband was an angry or violent man; maybe he had a tendency to blame her when she got pregnant. Maybe she had finally reached the point in her life when her youngest was in school and she had a few blessed hours to herself each day, when she could sit in the quiet of her house and have a cup of coffee and get her thoughts together. And maybe—just maybe—she was a woman who knew her own mind and her own life, and who knew very well when something was too much for her to bear.[From August 1965: An anonymous married woman describes terminating an unwanted pregnancy]The fictional woman with her head in her hands made me think of a real woman who died as a result of using Lysol to control her fertility: the 32-year-old woman in the Arkansas report whose husband took her to the hospital, where she soon died. Given the era and given that she was 32, there’s a fair chance that the couple had been married for at least a few years; there’s also a pretty good chance they already had children. For whatever reason, she just couldn’t face it again. She tried to do something to save herself—because when you can’t face something, there is no other choice. And she paid for it with her life.The first time I saw one of the new 3-D ultrasounds of a fetus in utero, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking at. It wasn’t anything like the black-and-white images I was used to seeing. It looked otherworldly, like we’d finally made contact with a planet we’ve always wanted to reach. In part it was the color, that glowing shade of amber that doesn’t suggest anything medical or technological. It calls to mind something almost ancient, something that suggests the beginning of all things. It reminded me, both in color and somehow in meaning, of the earliest photographs of the bog people of Northern Europe, a phenomenon that had absorbed my attention when I was very young. Those ancient and particular faces, those people you could easily have picked out of a crowd, buried deep in the peat for more than 2,000 years, keeping their secrets, slumbering. When farmers cutting turf began discovering them in the 1950s, they were so perfectly preserved that the men assumed they had uncovered the remains of very recent murder victims, not the bodies of people who had lived before the time of Christ. And that was the shocking thing about the bog people: They were so clearly like us, so obviously human and individual.These sonograms are so richly detailed that many expectant mothers pay to have one made in a shopping-mall studio, much in the spirit in which they might bring the baby to a portrait studio. They are one thing and one thing only: baby pictures. Had they been available when I was pregnant, I would definitely have wanted one. When you’re pregnant, you are desperate to make contact. You know he’s real because of the changes in your own body; eventually you start to feel his. The first kicks are startling and exciting, but even once they progress so far that you can see an actual foot glancing across your belly and then disappearing again, he’s still a mystery, still engaged in his private work, floating in the aquatic chamber within you, more in touch with the forces that brought him here than with life as it is lived on the other side.For a long time, these images made me anxious. They are proof that what grows within a pregnant woman’s body is a human being, living and unfolding according to a timetable that has existed as long as we have. Obviously, it would take a profound act of violence to remove him from his quiet world and destroy him.“Most abortions happen in the first trimester,” a very smart and very kind friend reassured me. I didn’t need to worry about those detailed images of babies—by the time they had grown to such recognizably human proportions, most of them were well past the stage of development in which the majority of abortions take place. And I held on to that comforting piece of information, until it occurred to me to look at one of those images taken at the end of the first trimester. I often wish I hadn’t.A picture of a 12-week fetus is a Rorschach test. Some people say that such an image doesn’t trouble them, that the fetus suggests the possibility of a developed baby but is far too removed from one to give them pause. I envy them. When I see that image, I have the opposite reaction. I think: Here is one of us; here is a baby. She has fingers and toes by now, eyelids and ears. She can hiccup—that tiny, chest-quaking motion that all parents know. Most fearfully, she is starting to get a distinct profile, her one and only face emerging. Each of these 12-week fetuses bears its own particular code: this one bound to be good at music; that one destined for a life of impatience, of tap, tap, tapping his pencil on the desk, waiting for recess.What I can’t face about abortion is the reality of it: that these are human beings, the most vulnerable among us, and we have no care for them. How terrible to know that in the space of an hour, a baby could be alive—his heart beating, his kidneys creating the urine that becomes the amniotic fluid of his safe home—and then be dead, his heart stopped, his body soon to be discarded.The argument for abortion, if made honestly, requires many words: It must evoke the recent past, the dire consequences to women of making a very simple medical procedure illegal. The argument against it doesn’t take even a single word. The argument against it is a picture.This is not an argument anyone is going to win. The loudest advocates on both sides are terrible representatives for their cause. When women are urged to “shout your abortion,” and when abortion becomes the subject of stand-up comedy routines, the attitude toward abortion seems ghoulish. Who could possibly be proud that they see no humanity at all in the images that science has made so painfully clear? When anti-abortion advocates speak in the most graphic terms about women “sucking babies out of the womb,” they show themselves without mercy. They are not considering the extremely human, complex, and often heartbreaking reasons behind women’s private decisions. The truth is that the best argument on each side is a damn good one, and until you acknowledge that fact, you aren’t speaking or even thinking honestly about the issue. You certainly aren’t going to convince anybody. Only the truth has the power to move.[Margaret Atwood’s work makes clear that bearing witness is a crucial step toward liberation in times of crisis, Sophie Gilbert writes. But witness-bearers—often women, in her books—shouldn’t mistake themselves for heroes, or hope to be heralded as such.]And here is one truth: No matter what the law says, women will continue to get abortions. How do I know? Because in the relatively recent past, women would allow strangers to brutalize them, to poke knitting needles and wire hangers into their wombs, to thread catheters through their cervices and fill them with Lysol, or scalding-hot water, or lye. Women have been willing to risk death to get an abortion. When we made abortion legal, we decided we weren’t going to let that happen anymore. We were not going to let one more woman arrive at a hospital with her organs rotting inside of her. We accepted that we might lose that growing baby, but we were not also going to lose that woman.I thought about many women while I was writing this essay. The two girls my mother had watched die, all the women who endured Lysol abortions. But I also thought about a man: the husband of that 32-year-old woman who died in Arkansas, so long ago. It was an act of courage—a rare one—for him to bring her in himself, and to stay with her. Both of them had conspired in a criminal activity. How can we calculate that man’s misery? Imagine him sitting in the hospital waiting room, an obscene pantomime of the times he had likely sat in a very different kind of waiting room, as his children were being born. Imagine the disdain with which he would have been regarded by many of the nurses and doctors. It would have been impossible, during those wretched hours, to try to explain to them that his wife had said she just couldn’t face it again, and that he had tried to help her. At some point he would have been told that she was gone and also that there would have to be an autopsy. And then, when nothing else was left to do, no other form to sign and no other question to answer, imagine him getting in the car and making the terrible drive back to his house so that he could tell his children that their mother was never coming home again.This article appears in the December 2019 print edition with the headline “The Things We Can’t Face.”
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The Commons
When the Culture War Comes for the KidsIn October, George Packer wrote about his attempt to do right by his children while navigating New York City’s schools, caught between a brutal meritocracy and a radical new progressivism.As public-school principals in Brooklyn, we feel obligated to correct George Packer’s mischaracterization of the educational approach used in New York City schools.We run our schools with one goal in mind: excellence and high achievement for every student. This—not a pledge to a particular political orthodoxy—is the motivation behind the intense investment of time and energy we put into our kids. Research shows that students achieve more at integrated schools—and we know integration works, because we see it working in our schools.Despite Mr. Packer’s assertions, we are not “getting rid of objective standards.” On the contrary, we are crystal clear about the educational heights we expect our students to reach, and we are committed to giving each of them what they need to get there. That will necessarily look different for every student, and we take on that challenge every single day.Anna Allanbrook,Principal, P.S. 146Michael Perlberg,Principal, M.S. 839Arin Rusch,Principal, M.S. 447Brooklyn, N.Y.Concerns about “meritocracy,” cited in George Packer’s essay, were what motivated us and hundreds of other parents in his Brooklyn school district to meet regularly over a period of six months to transform our racially separate and unequal middle schools.We were persuaded by troves of research, produced over decades, showing that equity and excellence are not mutually exclusive—they reinforce each other, as we have experienced with our own children. We were also driven by values that would not allow us to accept that neighbors in our supposedly progressive community would continue to be sorted by race.Undoing the injustices of racism and segregation has never been—and will never be—accomplished without conflict and hurt feelings on the part of long-privileged groups. But as the many schools nationwide that have persevered through those transitions demonstrate, students across the socioeconomic spectrum all ultimately benefit. Packer may feel that he lost in the demographic process, but perhaps he should expand his notion of what it means to win—and reconsider his assumptions about what makes an excellent school.Carrie McLaren,Coalition for Equitable SchoolsReyhan Mehran,Parents for Middle School EquityBrooklyn, N.Y.I’m a biracial father of a 2-year-old child who will probably be defined by society as white. I’m a liberal person and someone who has a lifetime of experience with the complexities of race. The identity politics of the current liberalism scare me, and the fact that they’re the only plausible alternative to Donald Trump’s fearmongering kleptocracy scares me even more. I feel the author’s pain—there’s no right place for liberals who still find value in the views of others and are actually open-minded in the broadest sense. Liberal identity politics come from a deep and meaningful place, but their current incarnation is a caricature of what they should be.Nate HoltonMilwaukee, Wis.The issues Packer sees in his kids’ NYC schools are present all over the nation, certainly here in Minnesota, which has one of the biggest divides in the nation between the test scores of students of color and those of their white counterparts. My own kids received an excellent education in their large public school district, which has gradually (and since 2016 more intensely) become politicized.There is still dedication and passion in teaching. The changes Packer notes are profound, though, and much of what we grew up learning and want our kids to know will not come back, at least not in the form we recognize.Janet HaHopkins, Minn.George Packer replies:I don’t know why Carrie McLaren and Reyhan Mehran write that I feel I “lost in the demographic process.” As my essay said, I support our district’s integration plan. This year I’m volunteering time in our son’s middle school to try to help make it a success. What I criticized was the plan’s indifference to the difficulties of academically mixed classrooms, and an intolerant ideology that answers good-faith criticism with a phrase like “hurt feelings on the part of long-privileged groups.”Behind the CoverIn choosing a symbol to represent this issue and inaugurate the magazine’s redesign, we wanted something striking and metaphorically rich: A bloody hand. The contours of a (fractured) nation. The universal symbol for “Stop!” A body divided against itself. The photographer Sam Kaplan, the stylist Brian Byrne, and their teams captured the hand’s porous colors—every smudge and glint—in vivid detail, and in doing so helped us construct an apt emblem for the political fractiousness and general chaos of the current moment.Peter Mendelsund, Creative Director Oliver Munday, Senior Art DirectorThe FactsWhat we learned fact-checking this issueThis month, Tom Junod writes about his transformative friendship with Fred Rogers, the inspiration for a new film starring Tom Hanks. Junod recently recovered emails from the cardigan-wearing minister—they corresponded regularly from 1998, when Junod profiled Rogers for Esquire, until 2003, when Rogers died—and shared them for fact-checking purposes.In 1999, Junod was assigned to write about the 11-year-old rapper Lil’ Bow Wow, and sought Rogers’s advice. What should he ask the boy—who, at age 6, had been handed his stage name by Snoop Dogg and had appeared in the music video for “Gin and Juice”? Rogers replied: “Does he have any friend(s) with whom he can share his times of sadness and fear (everybody has those you know)? … Does he have anything that gives him comfort when he goes to sleep? Could you tell him what it was like for you when you were 11?”In his article about the tween, Junod mentions that he and Lil’ Bow Wow played hide-and-seek together. “How lovely,” Rogers wrote. “There’s [a child] in everybody, but B.W. gave you the invitation of ‘Seeking’ his out.”Stephanie Hayes, Associate EditorQ & AIn the October issue, McKay Coppins wrote about the battle between Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. to succeed their father and rule the MAGA empire. Here, Coppins answers questions sent in by readers.Q: What surprised you most as you reported this story?A: I was amazed to learn how much Friedrich Trump—a German immigrant, enterprising brothel owner, and alleged draft dodger—had in common with his grandson serving in the Oval Office. The way a family ethos can be passed down through generations fascinates me.Q: Elevating family members and friends to high offices or unelected advisory roles is in fact a norm from past presidencies rather than an unusual feature of the Trump administration, as you observe. Going forward, what could be done to prevent the executive branch from engaging in this kind of cronyism?A: An anti-nepotism law is already on the books that prohibits the president from giving jobs in federal agencies to family members. By appointing Ivanka and her husband, Jared, to the White House staff, Donald Trump exploited a loophole that many Democrats argue should be closed.That said, it’s probably not possible to completely eliminate the influence of unelected relatives. That’s why I think the adult members of any first family should be subjected to the kind of rigorous scrutiny we tried to apply with this story.Q: Was it hard to get people close to the Trump family to talk with you? What were their motives and fears?A: Sources were understandably anxious about sharing the details of an intrafamily power struggle that the Trumps had no interest in publicizing. What I found, though, was that the more one faction cooperated with me, the more compelled others felt to talk. Don Jr.’s allies didn’t want their side of the story left out, and neither did Ivanka’s. It took several months and dozens of interviews, but over time, I was able to get a complete picture of this very unusual family.Correction: “What Happened to Aung San Suu Kyi?” (September) incorrectly identified Aung Zaw as one of Suu Kyi’s student bodyguards in 1988. Aung Zaw was a student activist at the time.
World Edition - The Atlantic
DACA heads to Supreme Court and all eyes are on Chief Justice John Roberts
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'Necessary procedure' - Britain says of Russia meddling report delay
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Israeli airstrike kills Islamic Jihad commander
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Nearly 70,000 migrant kids were held in US government custody in 2019
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Afghan president: Taliban to release 2 American University profs in prisoner swap
Kevin King, a U.S. citizen, and Timothy Weeks were kidnapped at gunpoint from the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul in August of 2016.
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How UK academics are facing a furious backlash for advising students to vote
Universities have a legal obligation to encourage voter registration. This has prompted an angry reaction in some areasWhen Carrie Paechter, a professor at Nottingham Trent University, tweeted two weeks ago that students could register to vote at both their home and term-time addresses, she didn’t anticipate the tirade of anger it would unleash. She was reported to the police and the Electoral Commission, and someone wrote to her vice-chancellor calling for her to be disciplined.Prof Paechter, who is director of Nottingham Centre for Children, Young People and Families, posted what she thought was an innocuous tweet on a Thursday evening. By Sunday she had blocked 568 people on Twitter who were furiously accusing her of encouraging students to break the law and vote twice. She insists she had no such intention, and simply wanted to ensure students didn’t miss out on voting in the general election, because they didn’t know their rights. Continue reading...
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Israel kills Baha Abu Al-Ata, top Palestinian militant in Gaza
Rockets hit Israel after Baha Abu Al-Ata's death, as Palestinian Islamic Jihad vows revenge.
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Daca: Dreamers take fight with Trump to Supreme Court
The fate of hundreds of thousands of migrants who arrived in the US as children hangs in the balance.
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Sean Spicer Ousted From ‘Dancing With the Stars’
Judges for the dancing competition made little secret that they thought the former White House press secretary should be eliminated. Voters finally caught up.
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Between the Stops by Sandi Toksvig review – an entertaining journey
Humour and anger underpin the Bake Off star’s singular reflections on sausages, prejudice and TVSandi Toksvig’s activism began early. At her Catholic primary school in Denmark, the nuns decreed that during bad weather, only the boys were allowed to play outside. Outraged, six-year-old Toksvig led a strike; the girls made posters and refused to go to lessons until they were allowed equal access to the playground. Faced with such militancy, the mother superior burst into tears, but the girls got their way. “I was filled with fury,” Toksvig relates, “a fury about any injustice which has never really left me.”The celebrity memoir is a format that requires constant reinvention these days, often appearing in the guise of a self-help book or A-Z rather than the usual chronological series of anecdotes and Toksvig, who balks at the idea of “celebrity”, has found a fittingly idiosyncratic vehicle for her reflections on her life and career. Quite literally: it’s the number 12 bus, which winds through London from her family home in Dulwich to her professional home of Broadcasting House at Oxford Circus, and she uses the journey and the vignettes of London life it offers as a jumping-off point for stories – her own and those of forgotten characters such as Lucy Wanmer, the “Little Woman of Peckham”, a 0.76-metre (2ft 6in) schoolmistress who was exhibited as a curiosity (as a short woman constantly having to navigate a world designed for tall men, Toksvig feels some affinity) or Una Marson, a Jamaican writer and activist who was the first black female programmer at the BBC. Continue reading...
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Echo Dot with Clock: Amazon's cheap Alexa alarm clock replacement
Adding a screen for the time transforms the Echo Dot into the best bedroom smart speakerAmazon has a new twist on its popular cut-price Echo Dot smart speaker, now setting its sights squarely on your beleaguered bedside alarm clock with a new LED display embedded in the side.The Echo Dot with Clock is one of those true Ronseal products - it says what it does on the tin. It is literally the same as the excellent third-generation Echo Dot, but is only available in white and has a white LED display showing the time peaking through the fabric side. Continue reading...
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A year to clean five schools of sexism – shouldn’t others do the same?
Experiment gets teachers and primary pupils to look at life through ‘gender equality lens’A class of 10-year-olds are sitting on the carpet looking at their teacher with open mouths. Their faces say: outrage.Their teacher, Rosemary O’Brien, has put up a statement on the board – a real one, by the Football Association in 1921. Football is “quite unsuitable for females”, it says. Across the classroom, pupils are voicing their disagreement. Continue reading...
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Aerial yoga – I look like a buffoon. I feel incredible. And then I vomit
Flying Fantastic has me wrapped in large loops of fabric while swinging, spinning and flying through the air. It’s glorious and exhilarating, but it isn’t all nirvanaIt is weird how the little mermaid is called Ariel, isn’t it? She has access to water and a bit of land, but definitely not the sky. No wonder she is frustrated. I have many thoughts like this as I hang upside down, blood rushing to my brain. Despite the fact I am wrapped in and suspended by the thinnest material, I feel safe and my mind is free to roam. Such is the paradox of aerial yoga (Flying Fantastic, three classes for £45, Restorative and beginner-friendly, it is suitable for people with mobility issues, and also me; it would not be unfair to describe this as yoga in hammocks.Iyengar yoga has long made use of slings to push positions further, but aerial yoga is different – derived as much from the circus as the subcontinent. Tutor Edel Wigan shows us how to wrap ourselves in large loops of fabric suspended from a rig, and trust them with our weight. It is a bit like trapeze. (Wigan devised her company, Flying Fantastic, with her husband, Chris, when they lived in Argentina – where circus schools are 10 a penny.) The class starts gently, leaning on ropes, swaying in circles to learn to trust them with our weight. We jump inside and expand the cloth. Farcically, my fabric keeps swinging around so I am facing the back of the class. I have to crane my neck to see the teacher, flailing to spin back around. I look like a buffoon. But I feel incredible. Continue reading...
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Doom creator John Romero on what's wrong with modern shooter games
The id Software founder talks about secret rooms, the value of guns and what the controversial genre has lost since the 1990s“Give us more guns!” is a common battle-cry among players of first-person shooters, the videogame industry’s bloodiest genre. Doom co-creator John Romero has a rather different opinion.“I would rather have fewer things with more meaning, than a million things you don’t identify with,” he says, sitting in a Berlin bar mocked up to resemble a 1920s Chicago speakeasy. “I would rather spend more time with a gun and make sure the gun’s design is really deep – that there’s a lot of cool stuff you learn about it.” Continue reading...
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US news | The Guardian
We’re bugged by a hotel chain’s response to our complaint
It offered budget deals but my daughter got more than she bargained forIn August my daughter and a friend stayed at an OYO hotel in Belgravia. On the second day they noticed bites and saw little bugs on the floor, wall and on their pillow, which appeared to be bed bugs. They went to the front desk to notify them and get a different room. The staff member said they couldn’t do anything and gave them a clean set of sheets. My daughter said the sheets would not change the issue as the bugs were in the room. They got no help and the person did not go upstairs to see the bugs.We have been trying to get a refund, and even have pictures of the bugs and bites, with time and location stamps to prove they were at the Belgravia hotel. They say they would only give us a 30% refund. They boast that they are the fastest growing hotel chain in the world. What a farce! Continue reading...
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US news | The Guardian
'We depend on the Tongass': Alaskans fight to save US’s largest national forest
Tribal leaders to testify before Congress in battle against Trump administration’s assault on environmental protectionsTribal leaders, fishermen and environmentalists from Alaska will testify before Congress on Wednesday in a bid to save America’s biggest national forest – the latest battle against the Trump administration’s assault on environmental protections.The Tongass national forest, one of the world’s last intact temperate rainforests which plays a crucial role in fighting the climate crisis, is under threat of logging as Alaska seeks exemption from the Roadless Rule, which protects millions of acres of pristine forests across the US. The Tongass is considered the “crown jewel” of the national forest system, sequestering huge amounts of carbon dioxide to keep the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere. Continue reading...
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US news | The Guardian
Lights, camera, impeachment: TV phase of inquiry carries pluses and pitfalls
Televised hearings allow Democrats to put the case against Trump to the public but also gives Republicans a chance to muddy watersThe opening phase of the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump has required investigators to methodically depose witnesses behind the closed doors of a secure facility in the Capitol basement. Related: 'A circus and a hoax': how rightwing media are covering impeachment Continue reading...
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Women's Equality party stands aside for Lib Dems in two seats
Exclusive: deal to adopt some of WEP’s policies could influence result in London seatCandidates for the Women’s Equality party (WEP) are to step aside in two constituencies where they were standing to highlight the treatment of women, as part of a pact in which the Liberal Democrats have agreed to adopt some of the party’s policies.The seats include one in central London vacated by the Tory Mark Field, where the Liberal Democrat Chuka Umunna is now being endorsed by the WEP after his party agreed to push for amendments to laws to give the public powers to eject MPs guilty of harassment. Continue reading...
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Brexit weekly briefing: Tory gaffes continue but party gets Farage boost
Brexit party leader offers Boris Johnson big leg up by agreeing to avoid splitting leave voteWelcome to the Guardian’s weekly Brexit briefing. If you’d like to receive this as a weekly email, sign up here. You can catch our latest Brexit Means … podcast here, and for daily updates head to Andrew Sparrow’s politics live blog. Continue reading...
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